CEDAR FALLS -- Cedar Falls Utililties will raise residential customers' gas bills by an average of $45 per month for the next 12 months and boost electric bills by $75 for the next two months to recoup large natural gas bills CFU paid during an unusually cold February.
Extraordinarily cold temperatures extended over a large swath of the country and plunged parts of Texas into dayslong blackouts. That curtailed natural gas production significantly as demand soared, affecting everyone who buys natural gas, said Steve Bernard, CFU general manager.
"That, in turn, drove natural gas prices sky high, to levels no one would have predicted," Bernard told an emergency session of the CFU board of trustees Monday afternoon.
During "really rough situations," the price of natural gas has risen to around $15 to $18 per decatherm, or around 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
But last month, "we saw prices 20 times that," Bernard said. "Nobody would have ever predicted the type of pricing we saw on those days."
To pay for that increased cost, Bernard asked the board to authorize CFU to increase customer billing an average of $45 per month for residential customers over the next 12 months, which the board agreed to unanimously.
Residential electric customers will also pay an extra $75 more, on average, spread over the next two months.
The board also authorized Bernard to work out payment plans that extend beyond 12 months in emergency situations, which may particularly be needed by larger commercial customers, he said.
Bernard, who must pay the increased costs now, will ask the board at its next meeting to authorize using funds from gas, electric and maybe even water and communications cash reserves. Those reserves will be recouped with the increased billings.
"We're in a really fortunate position financially to be able to float that for our customers for a period of time," Bernard said.
Other factors also helped CFU lessen its impact on customers, Bernard said, including generating energy locally and fixed price purchases, the latter of which saved an estimated $4.4 million during the cold snap.
"Even though it's still really dramatic, it could have been extremely dramatic without those other pieces in place," said board chair Jeff Engel.
Trustee Richard McAlister asked if Bernard had heard of state or federal investigations into that pricing, which he termed a "windfall" for natural gas companies.
"There's a movement afoot for an investigation as to how this did transpire," Bernard said.