State leaders increase assistance as Minnesota homeowners face $200 to $400 natural gas surcharge

The cold spell that the Midwest and south faced earlier this month put a strain on energy resources and is now leading to some homeowners facing a surcharge for natural gas.

According to state leaders, Minnesotans could see a one-time $200 to $400 surcharge due to the surge in natural gas prices in coming months. Lawmakers are now considering ways to help citizens as the state reviews the charges.

At a hearing on Friday, a joint committee from the Minnesota House and Senate heard from state officials on what homeowners could face and what is being done to help them.

"We're here today because we’re concerned about how and when these costs will be passed to utility customers," said Department of Commerce Commissioner Grace Arnold.

Minnesota isn't alone; the natural gas price spike is hitting the nation, caused by a cold snap this month that increased demand and higher costs from Minnesota to Texas.

"Natural gas prices spiked on the spot market between February 5 and 18 to more than 50 times the normal price," said Arnold.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission launched an investigation earlier this week. The Minnesota Attorney General's Office has their own underway.

"We are investigating," said Attorney General Keith Ellison. "Can’t really tell you who now -- that would not be fair in case the investigation shows that there’s not culpability -- but we are investigating."

It's likely customers won’t see any impact for several months. But what’s not clear is just how much extra they’ll have to pay, with estimates ranging from $200 to $400.

"Most municipals at this point are thinking of spreading costs over the next 9-12 months," said Municipal Electrical Association Executive Director Jack Kegel.

While the experts reiterate it’s a national issue, requiring a federal solution, there are measures being put into place to help in Minnesota.

"We are taking an immediate action to boost the Energy Assistance Heating Crisis Benefit from $600 to $1200 per household," said Arnold.

The utilities are asking legislators to help ease the burden where they can too.