Home weatherization can lower utility costs this winter

Program available to help low-income households

October is the perfect month to apply for weatherization assistance.

With the average U.S. home almost 40 years old, weatherizing a home to protect it from elements like the cold and rain can increase energy efficiency and lead to savings on utility bills, according to a Board of Public Utilities spokesman.

Weatherizing reduces leaks around the perimeter of a home, which includes sealing air ducts, bypasses, recessed lighting, as well as cracks around windows and doors. Weatherization saves households an average of 30% on heating costs in cold weather.

For those that might not be able to afford the upfront costs of weathering a home, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has weatherization assistance programs in all 50 states, helping more than 30,000 homeowners get weatherization assistance annually.

Locally, the Kansas Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income households cover the cost of heating, cooling, and energy efficiency improvements – free of charge. It’s funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) and is regulated by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.

At no charge, income-eligible families can receive a comprehensive home energy audit, assessing their entire home.

Certified energy auditors will search a home, inside and out, looking for inefficiencies and safety concerns using advanced equipment and identify a customized account of areas for cost-effective improvements. The improvements will be provided free of charge by a network of professional crews and contractors.

For more information or to enroll, go to www.ECKAN.org/weatherization/ or call 785-242-6413.

Kansans will pay more for natural gas this winter

Your natural gas bill will increase this winter as supply issues drive up market prices.

by Brian Grimmett, Kansas News Service

Wichita, Kansas — Your natural gas bill is going to go up this winter.

Natural gas prices run nearly double what they did a year ago and experts predict the increased prices to last at least through the winter.

Utility companies pass the cost of natural gas directly on to their customers. As the price of wholesale natural gas increases, so will the fee your utility charges every month.

For Kansas Gas Service customers, that fee this month is $5.67 per thousand cubic feet of gas used. Last October it was only $3.76.

Other large gas utilities have made similar increases.

The Atmos Energy gas purchase fee this month is nearly $1.50 more than last year. At Black Hills Energy it’s more than $3 more.

“Right now, what we see is a relatively tight market, and higher prices signalling that more (gas) supplies are needed on the market,” said Richard Meyer, vice president of the American Gas Association that represents natural gas utilities.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency said a few things are causing strain on natural gas supply that contribute to higher-than-normal natural gas prices.

First, the amount of gas in underground storage is lower than normal. That’s partly caused by February’s winter storm that set record cold temperatures for much of the central U.S. It’s also caused by increased usage by gas-fired power plants during a particularly hot August.

Hurricane Ida also cut natural gas production and supplies.

While the EIA expects many of those supply issues to get resolved, it said the price will likely remain high all winter.

If it does, the average Kansan could see a monthly bill increase as much as $100 higher than last year.

Kansas Gas Service spokeswoman Dawn Tripp said the company has several tools to help keep the cost of gas down even as market prices rise.

The company has purchased and stored large amounts of gas this summer when prices were generally lower. It also will enter into long- and medium-term contracts to try to lock a price in and hedge against future increases.

“By doing that, we’re able to place a price cap on a portion of our winter supply,” Tripp said.

Increased natural gas prices will also greatly impact Kansas farmers. Natural gas is the main ingredient in nitrogen fertilizers. When the price of gas goes up, so does the price of fertilizer.

“Fertilizer is the largest direct cost (for farmers),” said Mark Nelson with the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Higher fertilizer prices will mean thinner profit margins, he said.

Last year the price to put fertilizer on no-till corn was $60 an acre. Nelson said many people are preparing for that cost to double.

“That’s a lot of money just for that one cost input,” Nelson said.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2021-10-13/kansans-will-pay-more-for-natural-gas-this-winter.

Kansas gas utility won’t release invoices detailing winter prices, but some data is already available

Utilities purchased a combined $1 billion in excess natural gas charges during storm

by Allison Kite, Kansas Reflector

Kansas’ largest natural gas utility has resisted releasing records about what suppliers charged it during the historic cold snap in February that saw prices rise by more than 200 times. But according to a new filing, it has already disclosed much of that information.

In February, when temperatures in Kansas City plunged below 15 degrees for 10 days, natural gas prices went from a few dollars per MMBtu to $300 and $600 on some days. Kansas regulators are reviewing utilities’ plans to pass $1 billion in excess natural gas costs onto ratepayers, stretched over years.

Some large-scale customers have balked at the plans, pushing for more information about what suppliers charged Kansas utilities, particularly Kansas Gas Service, such high prices. But KGS has resisted those calls, saying its supplier invoices are confidential information.

But in a filing more than a month ago, KGS disclosed its suppliers and how much it paid each of them during the storm. A key piece of information missing is how much it paid per MMBtu, which would allow for comparison between companies.

“It seems to us to not be reasonable to say … 90% of what’s in the invoice is public, but 10% is not. That doesn’t seem to make logical sense to us,” said Jim Zakoura, an attorney representing the Natural Gas Transportation Customer Coalition, a group of large-scale business customers.

Zakoura filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission Wednesday asking commissioners to reconsider their earlier decision to deny his petition to release KGS’ invoices.

“It highlights the fact that in five days the market was so dysfunctional, in our opinion, that it caused a run-up of $1 billion,” Zakoura said.

Dawn Tripp, a spokeswoman for KGS, said documents the utility has filed with KCC are fully accessible to the agency’s staff, the attorney general’s office, Zakoura’s client and other consumer and business groups.

“Specific information about the pricing structure of the agreements we have with our natural gas suppliers and the prices paid are confidential,” she said.

Tripp said KGS has disputed charges with one supplier, Southwest Energy, reducing the cost of gas by $5.6 million. Another dispute, with MacQuarie Energy, is worth nearly $15 million and pending.

KGS is requesting to pass on more than $451 million in natural gas costs and carrying fees, the largest total of the Kansas utilities, and recover it from ratepayers over five, seven or 10 years. The change would increase the average customer’s bill anywhere from about $4 to $11 per month.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/09/23/ks-gas-utility-wont-release-invoices-detailing-winter-storm-prices-but-some-data-is-already-available/.