Utility infrastructure resilient in historic cold

Special to the Globe

As a historic arctic cold event gripped much of the country, Black Hills Energy stood ready to respond to dramatic increases in customer energy demand on our natural gas infrastructure.

Reliability, gas supply and operations team members continually monitored energy supply and adjusted as needed to support system integrity and meet extraordinary customer demand.

Locally, technicians bundled up to physically inspect and monitor key infrastructure to be ready to respond.

“The integrity investments made in Kansas in recent years and large volume and ‘interruptible use’ customers decreasing usage played a key role in how well our infrastructure performed as our team worked tirelessly to help homes stay warm,” said Black Hills Energy Kansas General Manager Jerry Watkins. “As we look to the recovery phase of this weather incident, we are focused on how the unprecedented demand in natural gas will impact customer bills and we remain committed to supporting reasonable energy costs.”

Customers can expect to see an increase in March bills directly related to their increased consumption of energy in February. This increase would be attributed to the additional usage as a result of extreme temperatures, and not related to the increased natural gas prices during the winter event. We will work closely with the Kansas Corporation Commission to determine the best path forward to manage the long-term impact of increased natural gas pricing for our customers, which will take more time.

Usage is the single largest portion of energy bills and weather is the biggest factor in increased usage. When temperatures are exceptionally low and usage increases dramatically across the country, the law of supply and demand created a temporary increase in commodity prices.

“As the cold set in and widespread customer demand for energy increased, our teams continued to deliver the most cost-effectively priced energy available. Our team of gas supply experts and our reliable infrastructure across Black Hills Energy’s eight state footprint performed well during this historic event,” said Watkins.

The natural gas customers’ fuel use is passed on to them at cost. Gas supply teams continuously prepare for abnormal demand and price changes to minimize the financial impact to our customers by implementing a portfolio of gas purchase options.

The recent polar event caused the largest natural gas price increases in the last 20 years.

Customers worried about affording their bill are encouraged to log into their account through the Black Hills Energy website and enroll in Budget Billing, which is a free payment plan that averages the amount you pay each month.

This budget option supports customers looking to avoid the seasonal increases in bills that result during extreme weather by averaging out usage during the past year.

Customers can also seek out other assistance options such as United Way’s 211 to get access to emergency utility assistance services like Black Hills Cares, by visiting Assistance Programs on our website.