MidAmerican Energy says it expects that residential natural gas customers in Iowa will see March bills $13 higher than those for February after the recent Arctic blast.
It said in a Thursday news release that it estimates a spike in gas usage and prices resulted in a $214 average increase when compared to the five-year annual average gas bill of $566 for Mid-American residential customers. That would work out to about $18 if spread across the year, it said.
For commercial customers, the company said, the March gas bill should increase an average of $95 from February’s. Based on a $1,182 increase from the cold snap above the five-year annual average cost of $2,233, the increased cost over a year would be about $98 a month, it said.
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.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8457.