MidAmerican says gas bills will be up because of cold snap, but that it will seek to stretch out impact
The recent arctic blast in Iowa means MidAmerican Energy gas customers will see a spike in their March bill, but nothing like the hit residents in Texas and other southern states are seeing, the Des Moines company said.
MidAmerican Energy expects to charge residential customers an average of $214 more over several months to recover the increased costs to heat homes earlier this month.
The utility expects the first increase in March to average $13. Monthly bills would be $18 higher if the costs were spread across a year.
The exact monthly increase depends on how long the Iowa Utilities Board allows companies to recoup their increased costs from this month’s record low temperatures.
For commercial customers, the company said, their gas bill should increase an average of $98 a month to pay for the $1,182 expected annual increase.
Des Moines experienced extreme cold from Feb. 5-18, with sub-zero temperatures on all but three days, according to the National Weather Service. MidAmerican said that over that period, residential customers used 50% more natural gas than normal, and gas prices spiked as the cold penetrated south to areas including Texas that usually don’t experience such extremes.
Typically, the added winter gas costs would be stretched across bills through August. But given the magnitude of this year’s expense, the Iowa Utilities Board will meet with MidAmerican Energy and other investor-owned utilities March 12 to decide whether the companies can have more time to recoup the costs, softening the blow on consumers.
Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy, which serves sections of four states, said regulatory boards in Illinois and South Dakota have agreed to let the company extend the time it has to recoup natural gas costs through December. The company also has customers in Nebraska.
“We understand that many are worried about an upcoming sticker shock for February heating, so we’re doing everything we can to lessen the financial burden on our customers,” Mike Gehringer, MidAmerican’s vice president of customer operations, said Thursday.
MidAmerican said residential customers used 50% more natural gas than normal from Feb. 5-18 as record low temperatures swept through the central U.S. The increased demand drove natural gas prices to record highs.
MidAmerican said the increases “will be less than much of the central U.S. may experience, and significantly less than the staggering cost hikes being reported in Texas and other parts of the South.”
MidAmerican said its gas storage and trading efforts saved customers $400 million during the cold snap.
“For nearly a year, customers have been dealing with extraordinary circumstances that have taken their toll and stretched paychecks,” Gehringer said. “We don’t want these increased bill amounts caused by the cold weather to be another worry. There are resources available to help.”
Iowa utilities urged consumers to contact them if they’re experiencing challenges paying their bills. Utilities offer budget billing that levels out seasonal spikes, and there are state programs to help low-income Iowans pay their utility costs.