NRC to join gas rate litigation

Chad Frey
The Kansan

The Newton Recreation Commission voted May 20 to join a group litigation process in an attempt to recover tens of thousands of dollars of natural gas fees. 

A spike in the cost of natural gas has led the Newton Recreation Commission to join a litigation group to try and recover some costs paid earlier this year.

Winter storm Uri — a polar vortex that settled in over the central third of the United States from Feb. 6 through 18 — led to frozen natural gas wells and spiking natural gas prices for some buyers. Huge bills for some customers was the result. 

The recreation commission paid the bill — all $39,194 of it — and has now entered a litgation pool to try and recover $37,023. The normal gas bill runs about $2,000 for the time period in question. 

"For us, that is a lot of money," said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. "We going to join the coalition to see if we can recoup some of that."

The charges in question were listed as "sales overtake" and "incremental supply cost."

The school district bill was more than $187,000 — about six times the normal bill for the time period. 

The state legislature created a low interest loan program to help municipalities, however that program was not available to school districts and some other entities like the recreation commission. 

The Kansas Association of School Boards and Kansas Joint Utility Management Program, are recommending a joint engagement of representing attorney Jim Zakoura, from Smithyman & Zakoura Law Firm in Overland Park, who is investigating possible price gouging.

More than 137 school districts could be involved in the litigation. 

In that agreement, S&Z Professional Services, will provide five specific services:  confirm with the local distribution company (Kansas Gas Service, Atmos Energy, and Black Hills Energy) the volume of gas provided by the Members’ Supplier (Symmetry) for the members’ account, so members do not pay for gas not delivered or provided;  provide advice as to the lawful price of gas that may be charged to the members, so that Members do not pay a price for gas that is in excess of that amount that may be charged under applicable Kansas law;  prepare Payment Protest Letters, as may be appropriate, to preserve Members’ rights to the benefits provided in the Members’ contracts with Symmetry;  initiate litigation, provide litigation defense, and provide advice for commercial negotiations (all, as may be applicable) ; and provide regular and recurring communications to both KASB and the group members.