Natural gas bills for City of Winfield residents will be adjusted after the pipeline company that serves the city declined to assess penalties for increased usage during February’s winter storm, although the exact amount of the reduction is still being determined, officials told the CourierTraveler on Friday.
Staff were notified Thursday that the city will not be assessed $4.8 million in penalties it could have faced from its pipeline company for customers’ natural gas usage during the storm, which saw wind chills in the -20s and -30s over a period of several days. With the penalties eliminated, this brings the city’s total gas liability down from $13.2 million to $8.6 million.
The biggest reason why the city was not penalized for using natural gas supplies beyond what the city had already purchased was because of staff and customer efforts to cut natural gas usage during that time, Winfield Mayor Greg Thompson said. This included the school system moving to virtual education during that time to curb natural gas usage to heat classrooms, Thompson said.
“Because we made the efforts, (the pipeline company) agreed not to penalize us,” Thompson said. “I’m extremely pleased with this, and I credit the entire community.”
Winfield City Manager Taggart Wall said Friday that staff is still calculating the reduced amounts for customers’ bills, but these should be available early next week.
Wall said the state is continuing to investigate whether price gouging caused natural gas prices to increase from around $2.50 per unit to hundreds of dollars per unit during the storm.
“Our focus from here on forward is reducing charges if there was market manipulation, and how to prevent this situation in the future,” Wall said.
The City of Winfield announced March 17 that costs will be spread out among its natural gas customers for six years to help pay back the loan. The cost adjustment will be 80 cents per MMBtu for the March, April and May billing cycles to allow the city to accrue enough money to make its initial loan repayment, which is due in July, before being reduced to a scheduled amount for the remainder of the repayment period.
The City of Winfield will hold a public meeting to discuss the impact for the Feb. 13-17 winter storm at 7 p.m. April 5 at the Winfield Community Center at Baden Square.
At the meeting, officials will review the gas emergency situation that occurred, past and present steps being taken to mitigate cost impacts, and cost recovery methods employed by the city to help reduce the immediate impact to customer natural gas bills.