Over the past month, Jo-Carroll Energy has heard from many of our natural gas members — directly and indirectly — about their bills. Many have wondered why what happened in Texas could affect natural gas bills for some residents of Illinois. Others compared their bills to those in neighboring areas.
While it may be hard to believe, what happened in Texas during an extended stretch of extremely cold and wintery weather disrupted energy production and drove up demand and pricing across many areas of the nation.
This is not unique to Jo-Carroll, but is a scenario playing out to millions of natural gas customers extending from Texas, well into the Midwest. This was an extraordinary event. Natural gas prices spiked to historic levels for nearly a week in February.
We began communicating with members as early as Feb. 15 to conserve natural gas usage. Although we did not know the final financial impact on our members until the month was complete, we mailed a letter on Feb. 22 warning all our natural gas members, rather than waiting as some utilities chose.
The combination of higher use and historic market prices led to the highest bills our natural gas members have ever received. It was also the highest bill the co-op has received. The purchased gas cost for the entire month was up significantly due to market prices, on one of our supply pipelines as high as 75 times normal, and the well above average usage (50% above normal) during the third week in February.
The added cost to our natural gas members on account of this event was more than $2 million. Sensibly, we had 85 percent of our members' typical usage covered for a normal February at low prices. Unfortunately, this was not a normal February, as is evidenced in the heating degree days data. Please refer to the April Illinois Country Living magazine article for additional information on heating degree days. If we had done nothing, the cost to Jo-Carroll members would have been an additional $2.77 million.
While we can't speak to what other utilities are charging or doing following February's extreme weather, more residents across the state will be seeing their natural gas costs increase, as other natural gas utility companies are seeking adjustments with their regulatory bodies.
Crain's Chicago Business recently reported the "harsh February weather sent natural gas costs spiraling up", and that some utilities plan to collect their higher costs over multiple months.
Earlier in the month, the Citizens Utility Board wrote in a blog post that utility companies across the nation were reporting soaring wholesale costs, and without federal intervention, those increased prices could result in higher utility bills for Illinois residents in the coming months. They noted that "everyone should be prepared for the possibility" of "an even bigger price spike in the months to come."
In response to this crisis, Jo-Carroll worked with the American Public Gas Association (APGA) to formally request that the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) begin an immediate investigation into the unprecedented rise in natural gas prices.
The co-op also worked with APGA to send a letter to President Biden supporting an Emergency Disaster Declaration for impacted regions of the country and has requested that federal funding be made available to assist public natural gas systems and their communities mitigate the impact of the price increases.
APGA also sent letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee requesting a hearing to examine the unimaginable natural gas prices experienced in large regions of the country from Feb 11-18.
As a distribution energy cooperative, we purchase natural gas from suppliers and deliver it to members. The cost of the gas itself is a pass-through to members. We do not set the purchase price that is paid for gas or add a mark-up.
While Jo-Carroll was able to maintain reliable energy to your homes during this critical time, we understand the impact that these higher bills have on our members. We continue to work with our members on an individual basis to identify assistance and payment arrangements available to them.
President & CEO