The Minnesota Senate today approved emergency legislation to protect ratepayers from surges in their utility bills related to the February polar vortex, which caused unprecedented spikes in natural gas prices from Texas all through the Midwest. Senate File 1018 will provide zero-interest loans through a new Polar Vortex Loan Account to municipal gas utilities (Munis), the nonprofit utilities owned and operated by 33 municipalities throughout Minnesota.
“There are dozens of small communities across the state that utilize nonprofit municipal utility providers, including in Circle Pines,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes). “Residents of these communities are facing massive price spikes on their next bills because of the February polar vortex. These zero-interest loans will give the utilities the resources they need to make it through this crisis and hold prices down for their customers. I am glad we could get this done today. Hopefully, the House quickly follows our lead.”
Estimates predict an impact to ratepayer bills between $250 and $500 for a typical residence for the time of the polar vortex alone. A business that typically spends $12,500 a month on gas could be facing a bill of $125,000 due to the spike.
Minnesota’s largest natural gas provider, Centerpoint, reported a dekatherm of natural gas jumped from $3 to $263 in a little more than a week due to the polar vortex. Every natural gas provider was affected by the surge, which coincided with higher customer usage due to a cold snap here.
Minnesota has two types of utilities: investor-owned natural gas utilities (IOUs) and municipal-owned gas utilities (munis). IOUs can work with the Public Utilities Commission between now and September to determine a plan that will keep their customers’ bills affordable. Munis do not enjoy the same extended timeline, so bills are already being sent to customers for the time of the price surge.