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Experts project an increase to natural gas bills this winter

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 18:38:33-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Customers of gas utility companies Spire and Kansas Gas Service should expect to see higher bills as they fire up their furnaces this winter season.

Both utilities expect increases to the cost of natural gas. Those increases do not make the utilities a profit.

Regulators ensure utilities simply pass along the price they pay at the wellhead to consumers.

Scott Weitzel, Spire’s vice president of regulatory and governmental affairs, said Spire will present its rate case to the Missouri Public Service Commission in October.

Pending approval, rates should increase in November. He said it’s too soon to say by how much rates will increase.

Kansas Gas Service also isn’t ready to speculate on the exact increase on the price of natural gas this season, but admits it will increase.

The Kansas Corporation Commission oversees any requests for rate hikes in Kansas.

Weitzel said natural gas is increasing for a variety of reasons like slow production, increased demand, inflation, the war in Ukraine and power plants using more natural gas this summer to create electricity to keep air conditioners running during extreme heat.

The Kansas Corporation Commission approved Kansas Gas Services request to issue securitized bonds to cover extraordinary costs related to a powerful winter storm in February 2021.

Beginning late this year, or early 2023, Kansas Gas Service will charge consumers $5 to $7 more per month for the next seven to 10 years.

In Missouri, Spire has a pending case with the MPSC to increase the operations part of its bill, the side where it earns a profit.

Those increases would mostly help the utility cover employee salaries, which Weitzel called the utility’s largest expense and greatest asset. The MPSC should rule on that increase by February 2023.

“We're not asking for money to be spent in the future,” Weitzel said. “These are for dollars and capital, or IT systems that have been spent a year ago, two years ago. It's it's in service. It's an operation.”

Weitzel said Spire was recently awarded around $50 million from other utilities it assisted during that February 2021 winter storm. He said that money will offset some price increases customers see on the natural gas part of their bill.

Spire and Kansas Gas Service offer assistance and weatherization programs to help consumers pay bills or lower their gas usage.

Tips include conducting an energy audit of your home.

That includes sealing windows, insulating as needed, having an HVAC technician inspect their furnace, turning ceiling fans to rotate in a clockwise fashion so they push hot air down, and turning down the temperature on water heaters.

Anthony Florez of Elite Heating and Air recommends replacing your furnace’s air filter before using the unit at the beginning of winter.

“What will happen if the furnace filter gets too dirty, it won’t allow the air to pass through the furnace and the furnace will get hot and it’ll just shut off,” Florez explained.

Visit Spire’s website for information about energy audits and assistance programs.

Kansas Gas Service customers can find similar information about assistance and weatherization on that utility’s website.