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Due to cold snap, higher energy bills likely
City, county looking at emergency declaration
higher energy prices pic
Ice encrusts an electric meter in downtown Great Bend. Cities and other consumers will likely see higher electric and gas bills due to the recent cold snap.

The arctic cold snap two weeks ago was “the perfect storm,” and it would be prudent for Great Bend residents to brace themselves for spikes in their energy bills, City Administrator Kendal Francis said, addressing the City Council Monday night about the recent bout with winter.

“It was unprecedented for certain. Basically, it was the law of supply and demand,” he said. “We had very high demand and a very low supply of natural gas and electricity.”

He said there’s a very real possibility over the course of the next month or so utility bills for both the electricity and natural gas will jump substantially. “I know that we are anticipating, for the city itself, a tremendous increase,” he said.

Francis said the city’s electricity provider Wheatland Electric has done an excellent job in communicating with their key customers, such as the city, as to their plans. The utility has also gotten the word out via traditional and social media to its other customers.

He expects the natural gas providers and other utilities in Kansas to start doing the same. However, for those who haven’t followed the reports should be ready.

An emergency declaration

This is a concern for cities to the point city administrators from across the county met with the Barton County Commission during its study session Monday morning.

“We were discussing the possibility of them issuing an emergency declaration to help activate federal aid to somehow offset what we anticipate will be the resulting in high energy costs,” he said.

“Even if you’re allowed to pay your (higher) bill out over the year, you’re still going to have a pretty big effect from this,” Francis said. 

“I’m hopeful that the County Commission moves forward with the emergency declaration,” he said. It’s not a promise of federal aid, but without it, the county won’t see any support from the federal end.

County Administrator Phil Hathcock said the matter would be on the commission’s agenda Monday morning. 

“If there are enough counties that are showing that need, that gives (Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly) ammunition to act and say ‘hey, it’s not just Texas that’s been inundated with this weather, it affected us too,’” Francis said.

This declaration has to come from the county level, he said. This would pave the way for federal money to come via the state.

Even with the declaration, the county and the state would have to reach a high threshold of financial loss for funding to kick in, officials said.

If funds come, it is unknown if they would go to municipalities, utilities or to consumers. And, “It wouldn’t be a timely process. Things move at the speed of government.”

So, he advised folks to plan on paying the higher bills for now. Wheatland has already noted it will spread larger bills out over multiple months and other will likely follow suit. However, “it’s still a burden if your electric bills were $100 and all of a sudden you know it’s three, five, seven times more, that’s going to be a challenge for anybody honestly.”

Impact on the city

For the city, the cold brought all city projects to a grinding halt. But it goes beyond that.

The City of Hoisington declared a financial emergency last week, because it has its own power plant and is a electric utility provider. “As such, their exposure to the high cost to produce electricity was high.” They racked up a $66,000  diesel fuel bill for that four day period where they were producing electricity.

But, this is not the story in Great Bend. 

“Once we actually see those bills, we’ll take steps to reduce costs in other areas to help offset that,” he said. “Fortunately, in this case, we’re not a municipal gas or electric supplier so our exposure was not as great as some of those cities would be.”