Allegations of market manipulation in winter storm Uri spark support for further investigation

TOPEKA — Kansas Electric Cooperatives representative Leslie Kaufman is likely to view any weather anomaly bearing Uri’s name as a financial threat pseudonym.

Kaufman joined a chorus of energy and political interests on Tuesday in endorsing a Kansas House resolution calling for a full investigation into the February 2021 Uri winter ice storm that knocked out power for 10 million people in United States and Mexico and placing 170 million Americans in bad weather. alerts by the National Weather Service. The cold spell has led to an electricity crisis in Texas that has spread its tentacles to Kansas, where consumers are facing rising utility bills tied to unprecedented increases in energy costs.

Concurrent House Resolution 5023, previously passed by the Kansas House, expressed support for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s investigation into possible market manipulation and underscored the need for a parallel investigation by the prosecutor’s office. General Derek Schmidt.

“Electricity co-ops, as purchasers of natural gas or natural gas-generated electricity, have been impacted by high gas prices associated with winter storm Uri,” Kaufman said. “These costs were to be passed on to member consumers. Co-ops have worked with consumers and developed viable payment options and ways to spread payment over time. Still, it was a significant cost event.

The chairman of the Senate Public Services Committee was set to vote on the resolution, but Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, asked for a delay to determine whether the attorney general was eager for the committee to move forward with the call for an investigation into storm.

“I would like to have the agreement of the attorney general’s office that this is indeed the action they are taking,” Francisco said.

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Republican from Shawnee and chairman of the Public Services Committee, said he understood the attorney general was “looking at a number of different cases,” but was unsure of the status. He said he would contact the attorney general’s office and reschedule a committee vote on the resolution.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said loved ones who reside in San Antonio know what it’s like to be caught in the middle of last year’s deadly cold snap.

“I still believe that the investigation of who made that money is on Wall Street. The business patterns that we have going on today are a lot of where the investigation needs to be continued,” Olson said. .

David Nickel, consumer advocate for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, said the price of natural gas has risen nearly 200 times over the typical winter cost in Uri. After the storm subsided, he said, natural gas prices fell to near-normal levels.

“CURB does not believe that any gas producers in Kansas illegally took advantage of winter storm Uri for the gas they produced in Kansas. Nor does it appear that any of our utilities have engaged in illegal activity regarding natural gas prices. On the contrary, CURB believes that any price increase that may have occurred was at the marketing level,” Nickel said.

State Treasurer Lynn Rogers, a Democrat, said the utility loan program created by the Kansas Legislature in March 2021 provides low-interest loans to Kansas towns that need help. borrow to cover the extraordinary costs of natural gas and electricity resulting from the winter storm.

As of Jan. 1, he said, 54 cities and one municipal energy agency had submitted applications leading to the approval of $78.4 million in loans. So far, four cities have fully repaid their loans.

Examples of loans include: Garden City, $10 million; Winfield, $8.5 million; Garnett, $2.9 million; Pratt, $2.7 million; Louisbourg, $2.6 million; Moundridge, $1.7 million; Osage City, $1.6 million; Cheney, $1.4 million; and Eskridge, $1.1 million.

“Still, the Kansans deserve answers about how these price spikes happened and assurances that their interests will be protected in future events like this. If market manipulation turns out to be or a price escalation has occurred, communities could direct proceeds from potential settlements or repayments toward prepaying their loans, rather than facing costs over 10 years,” Rogers said.

The Kansas Corporation Commission is working with utility companies to complete work on a storm-related customer payment schedule.

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