Cold spike brings energy price hike

The aftermath of the mid-February cold snap that brought double-digit sub-zero temperatures to a huge swath of the country is starting to hit in the form of excessively high electric and natural gas bills — and many communities are finding that impact may be too much to bear without government assistance.

Denison, in southeastern Jackson County, is one such community.

“One week is basically going to destroy us,” said Vickie Wold, president of the Denison City Council, of a natural gas bill of about $241,400 for the four-day period between Feb. 12 and Feb. 16 — nearly twice the $125,000 the city paid in natural gas for all of 2020, it was reported.

That bill, Wold said, could cost Denison much more than the town could handle financially — it could also result in the town of about 180 becoming an unincorporated community. And even if the town could get some financial help from state or federal sources to cover the bill, she added, there’s no certainty whether the city could handle such an emergency again.

“We’re hanging on and hoping there’s going to be some help,” Wold said. “But if this were to happen again, it’s hard telling whether we could survive.”

The gas bill came from the Kansas Municipal Gas Agency (KMGA), which manages a natural gas pool that provides gas at wholesale prices to 48 communities, including Denison. Sam Mills, managing director of electric operations for KMGA, said he empathizes with those communities who fear more than just a high gas bill.

“We’re doing the best we can to reduce the impact to the cities,” Mills said Friday.

But it’s not just smaller communities like Denison that are bearing the brunt of high energy costs resulting from the polar vortex that put a sizable section of the nation, stretching from the Canadian border all the way down into southern Texas, into the deep freeze. Holton is also feeling the chill, City Manager Kerwin McKee told the Holton City Commission on Monday.

That’s because Holton gets some of its power from the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency, which runs a municipal power pool that provides wholesale power to 19 cities including Holton and also operates KMGA under an “interlocal cooperation agreement,” according to Mills.

KMEA recently presented the City of Holton with a $457,750.51 bill covering power provided to the city between Feb. 10 and Feb. 16, McKee said, noting that the city’s electric bill for all of February 2020 was about $105,000. That prompted the commission to approve a resolution declaring “a local state of financial emergency.”

It’s a situation that’s not likely to go away anytime soon without state or federal help, and governmental officials at both levels have taken some steps to alleviate the situation. But for the community of Denison, and other communities like it that are facing high energy bills because of the polar vortex, that help can’t come quickly enough.

“Hopefully, there will be some relief,” Wold said.

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The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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