The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a special planning meeting on Tuesday to launch an investigation into the economic impact of the natural gas price spike that occurred during last week’s arctic blast. The PUC voted 5-0 to open a formal investigation to examine the impact of the national spike in prices on customers and the state’s gas utilities.
While Minnesotans had reliable power to keep their lights on and stay warm, the Commission learned that some utilities had to buy gas at prices that were at least 50 times higher than average between February 12 and February 17. The formal investigation will examine the impact and look for ways to mitigate the impact on utility customers. At the hearing, regulated gas utilities, which serve the majority of Minnesotans, reported that unexpected gas costs in mid-February will not show up in customer bills immediately, but may be delayed by several months pending approval by the PUC.
The Department of Commerce represents Minnesota ratepayers before the PUC on issues of energy resources and administers programs that provide financial assistance for heating and energy efficiency programs to Minnesotans.
PUC Chair Sieben said, “Our infrastructure provided warmth and electricity to Minnesotans throughout the severe weather event. We are just learning the economic fallout from this storm. 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.”
Commerce Temporary Commissioner Grace Arnold said, “In this investigation, Commerce’s role is to protect Minnesota residents and businesses, and to provide assistance if utility bills are high. 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.”
Minnesota consumers who need assistance to pay their utility bill can contact the Department of Commerce Energy Assistance Program at 800-657-3710, and press 1, or visit the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program online. For issues utility service, contact the PUC Consumer Affairs Office at 651-296-0406, or 1-800-657-3782. Email at email@example.com.
—Information provided by Minnesota Department of Commerce.