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Impact of February freeze on gas bills still unknown

MARSHALL — The extreme cold temperatures that hit much of the country in February created surging demand for natural gas and spiking prices — and it could have an effect on gas bills in the Marshall area as well.

It’s still not certain exactly what individual customers of Great Plains Natural Gas can expect, said company spokesperson Mark Hanson. However, it’s estimated that gas price increases will translate into an impact of $200 to $300 for each customer, Hanson said. That amount isn’t likely to show up on customers’ gas bills all at once, however, and Hanson said Great Plains is working with the Public Utilities Commission to determine how to recover the money with the least impact to customers.

“We’re still working through our information on it,” Hanson said of February’s freeze. The company will likely have more definite information by mid-March, he said.

Great Plains Natural Gas Co. operates both as a local distribution company and a transporter of natural gas to customers. According to the company website, Great Plains Natural Gas has industrial, commercial and residential customers in 18 Minnesota communities, including Marshall, Granite Falls, Clarkfield, Echo, Wood Lake and Redwood Falls.

Hanson said there are two ways that the extreme cold could affect area residents. First, the cold snap created more demand for heating, so people are likely to see a higher bill just from increased consumption of gas. The surge in gas prices caused by extreme temperatures and power outages in the southern U.S. would also have an estimated $200 to $300 impact for each Great Plains customer, he said.

However, Hanson said Great Plains would defer those amounts until the company finds a way to recover the cost with less impact to customers. The extra cost could be spread out over time, he said. It will likely be a few months before those costs have an impact on customer’s bills.

Last week, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said it would launch an investigation into the economic impact of the natural gas price spike. Some utilities had to buy gas at prices at least 50 times higher than average between Feb. 12 and Feb. 17, the PUC said in a news release. The investigation will look for ways to lessen the impact of the spike on utility customers

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