After a week of unexpected and extreme spikes in natural gas prices due to the frigid winter conditions, the City of Altamont anticipates these prices will dip back to normal come the end of this weekend.
This week, Altamont’s natural gas prices rose from the typical $3 MMBtu to $622 MMBtu, which significantly impacts residents’ gas bills. Michael Sheilds, Altamont public information officer, explained that a typical month’s bill with $3 MMBtu is $91, while one with $622 MMBtu would be about $4,788. According to Audree Aguilera, Altamont city administrator, the pricing decreased toward the end of the week. Thursday’s gas was $44 MMBtu and Friday’s decreased further to $7.95 MMBtu. Aguilera said while this price is still higher than normal, it is more manageable.
“… Now we’re kind of preparing for the financial impact of how this is going to hit the city,” Aguilera said. “I know that’s what most of the cities, if not all of the cities, that are in this KMGA co-op are worried about now are the financial weight that’s soon to come. …”
The City of Altamont has since called off their evacuation and contingency plans previously put in place in the event that their natural gas was cut-off. Aguilera still encourages residents to have their own contingency plans in just in case, but said “for right now that’s a very slim possibility that would even happen.”
Aguilera said the city has now shifted their focus to the financial impact that this incident has had on residents and their coming gas bill due to the price influx. Though, the city is still working to find out more on the situation and how to best go forward.
“I think right now we don’t have enough information, as far as how the financial impact or how big it will be just because, one, there’s still a lot of moving parts still with to what level the federal and state governments are going to step in to help,” Aguilera said. “So, we may not even get that, or we could see a portion, we could see the whole thing—there’s just too many moving parts to really know to what extent we’re going to be impacted righted now. …”
The city wants residents to know that they will not face the financial impacts of their unexpectedly high gas bills alone. Additional, they understand residents were not prepared for this situation.
“… And worst-case scenario where, yes, we did get those bills, in any circumstance where those bills would be higher or our residents would have to pay for a higher bill we would work with them,” Aguilera said. “We understand that this is unprecedented; we understand that nobody can afford this kind of utility bill. We understand that and we know that. And in no circumstance would we expect them to have that paid on the 15th for their regular bill, we know that’s not anything doable. …”
In addition to the City of Altamont, both the state and federal levels are working to get involved in investigating the extreme price influx. Aguilera said Friday morning she spoke with a woman named Pam from the office of Jerry Moran, Kansas U.S. senator.
“… She was very encouraging that they are working very diligently the federal level to make sure that, one, in the future that there are safeguards put in place that this can’t happen and there will be investigations and stuff as far as the price gouging,” Aguilera said. “And two, to really advocate for financial assistance and assistance to KMGA and its members so that this way it doesn’t get pushed down to the cities or residents. So that’s some good news, a lot of good news. I can tell you it’s slowed down a lot since it all started on Sunday. …”
Specifically, the city will continue looking into the legalities of how Altamont’s residents could be charged with such extreme rates for their gas in the first place.
“I know there are a lot of investigations that will be going on, and that’s something that’s really going to be pushed as to how this was legal or how this is possible, why could they get to these extremes—because those are astronomical numbers, those are 200 times the normal amount …” Aguilera said.
Aguilera said she believes what largely led to the increased price of the city’s natural gas was due to the increased demand of gas by Altamont’s residents because of the frigid weather, but with a smaller supply on-hand.
“… As to why, I think the biggest thing that pushed that is the supply and the demand, and it was just a matter of circumstance with the extreme temperatures,” she said. “And because of the extreme temperatures, that was just a domino of equipment not functioning as it was supposed to … And then, of course with the colder weather, everybody was pulling and needing that bigger demand because of them needing to heat their house and generate electricity and all those different customers that use natural gas, so it was just the perfect storm and a matter of circumstance, from my understanding, that led us to those prices.”
Aguilera said the city appreciates everything their residents and businesses have done to help out during this situation. She encourages the city to continue conserving their gas and energy as best they can.
“… Try and continue to conserve throughout the end of the weekend,” Aguilera said. “The more they can conserve is going to help the city and themselves to help with the financial impact. …”
She asked that going forward for Altamont residents to have “continued patience” as they look further into the financial impact on the city and its residents.
“… These are going to be long processes to get those answers, as far as why this happened, what’s going to happen to stop this, what are the city’s next steps, will we stay with KMGA—there’s so many questions that are looming out there and we all have those same questions here at the city council and the city,” Aguilera said. “We want to stress that it’s going to take time. There’s a lot of things that we have to do, we want to make sure we have all the information in our hands so we can make the best-informed decision and do our due-diligence going forward.”