By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Unusually cold temperatures caused blackouts that left millions of Texans without power for days, but the repercussions have now spread across the country. Minnesotans will feel the nationwide natural gas price surge.

“It will be significant,” said Jack Kegel, the CEO of the Minnesota Municipalities Utilities Association. “The question will be how do the individual utilities decide to allocate those costs over time.”

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Kegel believes most utility companies will work to spread out the cost over a period of time.

He says everyone has been hit hard, paying more than usual – 80 to 100 times the normal price – for gas.

But Minnesota is in a better position than Texas.

“We’re lucky we have a diverse fuel supply here in Minnesota. A lot of our electricity comes from coal and nuclear power as well,” said Isaac Orr, a Policy Fellow at the Center of American Experiment. Minnesota energy companies, he added, cannot profit when mother nature causes an increase in demand for heat.

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“The utility doesn’t get to make a profit on the natural gas cost that they have so that cost gets passed directly into the consumer pocket. So they’ve talked about ways of spreading that cost out over a longer period of time but ultimately consumers will bare that cost,” he said.

In a statement Center Point Energy said it is too early to quantify the potential customer impact of the short-term price spike.

That’s why the special Minnesota Utility Commission meeting was scheduled to help determine how to go about paying for this surge in energy usage.

“Minnesotans probably will see their electricity bills and their natural gas bills go up because of the cold weather, but not nearly as on the scale like you see in Texas,” said Orr.

Senator Tina Smith sent a letter to regulators on Saturday urging them to investigate possible price gouging for natural gas.

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced yesterday it is investigating possible market manipulation.

Reg Chapman