Guest Column: Cities left alone as winter approaches


Winter approaches, and we’re on our own this year to make sure we don’t get left out in the cold.
You’re going to want to start thinking about winterizing your home, if you have not, to avoid the considerable financial fallout of last February.
This week, the Kansas Corporation Commission, which is charged with helping protect consumers, punted on using subpoena power to further investigate natural gas increases. The office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt did take a break from sending press releases about the Biden Administration to send a press release signaling that the state plans on looking for outside help in considering bringing a civil suit against natural gas companies for price gouging.
They’ll have bids on that outside help by the end of October, just in time for the weather to get cold. And perhaps, in another winter or two, we might see a case make it to court, should Schmidt or his successor decide to continue down that road.
“State law prohibits ‘unjustified’ price increases for ‘necessary’ goods and services during a declared state of disaster emergency, and on their face, these increases appear to violate Kansas law,” Schmidt said. “Our investigation has reached a point where additional resources and expertise in the complicated natural gas marketplace are required.”
So where does that leave us in the coming winter weather?
Many municipalities have adopted long-term payment plans to pass the extraordinary hikes their gas buying co-op faces – 200 times normal costs – on to consumers over coming years.
That’s thanks to the lone piece of legislation on the issue our legislature passed, basically saying, “We’ll give you little cities a cheap loan so you don’t go bankrupt.”
Following that helpful action, the “there ought to be a law” legislative fervor quieted down.
Halstead residents faced between $500 and $2,500 bills and options on how to pay those off, for instance.
The Kansas Gas Service has sent plans to the KCC which would have customers paying between $5.10 to $17.51 extra a month, depending on how quickly they opt to pay the fee off in their payment plan – from three to 10 years. Kansas Gas Service is working on paying down $450 million it incurred during that week keeping its customers from freezing to death.
That’s a range of $612 to $630 in costs. That plan still must be approved by the KCC.
We’re likely all looking at hundreds of dollars more on our gas bills in the coming years due to this event.
Add to that consideration that there’s not any additional sort of guarantee or protection from the same business practices that led to the February disaster, should our region face another similar set of subzero weather.
For the larger companies and suppliers that participated in the gouging, defined by Kansas statute as increasing prices by more than 25 percent during a disaster, there’s been little consequence.
What consequences there could be are years away, should our state manage to place a civil suit and should the state win. We doubt civil fines will come anywhere near the millions and millions they took out of the pockets of hard-working Kansans.
All this is to say, stop by your local hardware store and buy some caulk for those drafty windows. Buy some covers for the drafty door bottoms. Make sure your windows seal. If you have a fireplace, get it checked out so it’s safe and ready to use. Look into state weatherization programs, if you are eligible.
As always, our legal and political systems remain snuggled up to large and abusive corporations and move incredibly slowly.
We little people, meanwhile, are left out in the cold.
Editor’s note: This column was written by the editorial board at Harvey County Now in Newton.