County gas bill jumps after price spikes

Chad Frey
The Kansan

It was a moment that county commissioners were bracing for — the natural gas bill for the detention center, courthouse and weight room facility that included anticipated price spikes from the polar vortex in February. 

Harvey County

That bill came in at $52,000 — well above the $1,800 normally paid for those three facilities in a month. 

"One good thing is that is still a lot less than what we were anticipating," said commissioner Randy Hauge. 

Commissioners had stated publicly during previous meetings they expected the bill to reach six figures. The bill they were given is still under review — containing an "incremental supply charge" of $28,000 that county administration is asking suppliers to explain in more detail. 

"I have an inquiry into our suppliers to detail that out and explain that to us. ... It has no defined purpose," said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator. "We can assume it is due to the challenges that they had in getting us a supply but they do not state that anywhere in the letter they sent or on their statement." 

The county began bracing for higher bills when during the month of February a bitter cold snap over the central part of the United States resulted in frozen natural gas wells — tightening supplies when they were needed most for heat. 

The Kansas Municipal Gas Association reported during that time the price of natural gas spiking from $3 per MMBTU to more than $620 per MMBTU in the course of one week. The KMGA represents about 50 cities in Kansas, including Burrton, Halstead, Hesston, Moundridge and Walton. 

The county saw spikes in the price per unit on its bill as well — buying 465 MMBTU at $2.95 per unit before purchasing 300 MMBTU at $76.50 per unit in the month of February. 

— Contact Chad Frey at news@thekansan.com