News Briefs

Tiny Kansas town of Alma sued by natural gas supplier over $172K charge from February cold snap

By: - December 16, 2021 11:48 am

A weeklong cold wave in February sparked an energy crisis which drove the price of natural gas to 200 times its price a few days before. Black Hills Energy will see, on average, another $11.47 on their bills each month. (Max McCoy/Kansas Reflector)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A tiny town in Kansas’ Flint Hills is being sued by its natural gas supplier for failing to pay more than $170,000 in charges from the extreme cold snap that gripped the Midwest 10 months ago.

Bluemark Energy, an Oklahoma-based natural gas marketer, filed suit against Alma — population 802 — last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas. It says Alma was charged $638,190.63 for natural gas in early March but paid only $465,750.18.

Its unpaid balance of $172,440.45 is close to what Bluemark says it spent in excess natural gas costs when extremely cold temperatures in mid February sent natural gas prices through the roof. Bluemark asked the court to force Alma to pay the total, plus interest.

Fallout from the unprecedented cold snap is still being sorted out 10 months later. During the worst of the cold snap, which saw temperatures in Kansas City fall below 15 degrees for 10 days, natural gas prices rose to as much as 200 times their normal price.

Electric and natural gas utilities serving residential and small commercial customers are expected to pass on similarly exorbitant costs they incurred to keep Kansans warm. The total to those customers is near $1 billion.

A number of large businesses and cities that buy their gas wholesale, like Alma, received huge bills following the cold snap.

Their natural gas purchases aren’t regulated like the residential utility providers are, so while residential customers didn’t pay extra for natural gas immediately following the storm, wholesale customers did.

Another small Kansas city, Mulberry, is suing BP over the exorbitant natural gas bill it received following the storm.

The high prices may have violated Kansas anti-profiteering laws, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release in September announcing that his office would hire an outside law firm to assist in his investigation of the price hikes and consider litigation.

Attorneys representing Alma and Bluemark did not immediately return requests for comment.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.