ST. PAUL, Minn. – The State of Minnesota is going to investigate the economic impact of the natural gas price spike during the mid-February winter storm that hit much of the nation.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously Tuesday to open a formal investigation. Though Minnesota didn’t experience the power outages seen in other states, particularly Texas, the PUC says it has learned some utilities had to buy natural gas at prices at least 50 times higher than average between February 12 and February 17.
“In this investigation, Commerce’s role is to protect Minnesota residents and businesses, and to provide assistance if utility bills are high,” says Commerce Temporary Commissioner Grace Arnold. “Our review of utilities’ natural gas purchases as part of this investigation will ensure utilities were prudent. Households struggling to pay utility bills now can apply for energy assistance and weatherization programs offered through the Department of Commerce.”
At a hearing Tuesday, the regulated gas utilities which serve most of Minnesota said those unexpected prices increases will not show up immediately in customer bills. The utilities say higher energy bills may be delayed by several months pending approval by the PUC.
“Our infrastructure provided warmth and electricity to Minnesotans throughout the severe weather event. We are just learning the economic fallout from this storm,” says PUC Chair Katie Sieben. “As regulators, we will use every tool available to mitigate the impact to Minnesota utility customers. And, we will work cooperatively with state and federal partners to address the very real consequences this storm may have on utility customers’ pocketbooks. In the midst of this COVID pandemic, the last thing needed are additional bills hitting Minnesota families and businesses.”
Governor Tim Walz issued the following statement on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s investigation:
“I, like so many around the nation, witnessed how last week’s cold weather led to a grid failure that devastatingly left families in Texas without reliable access to power and heat for days. Thankfully, Minnesotans did not experience prolonged energy shortages last week, a testament to the benefits of Minnesota’s effective energy planning and regulation and the skilled work of our frontline utility workers. Even so, it is clear the events of last week will be felt in our state. While we are just beginning to understand the implications of last week’s spike in natural gas prices, it is important that we work together and proactively to mitigate the impact on families and small businesses."
"I am glad the Public Utilities Commission is opening an investigation, and my administration, through the Department of Commerce, will advocate for Minnesota ratepayers during that process. Our administration is also working with municipal utilities as they navigate the challenges posed by last week’s events. This national natural gas price spike will likely require Federal assistance to address, and as such I will be reaching out to our federal delegation and the Biden Administration to push for additional resources for Minnesota families and businesses—many of whom are already struggling financially from the COVID-19 pandemic—to help reduce the burden of energy costs.”