Loan Program in the Works to Help Communities Struggling with Natural Gas Bills

By Jeremy Coumbes on February 24, 2021 at 10:29am

Area municipalities currently struggling in the wake of the natural gas crisis have some help on the way, with more to possibly follow.

Governor J.B. Pritzker has called on the Illinois Finance Authority to create a $15 million low-interest loan program to assist municipalities across central and southern Illinois.

Speaking at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency today, Pritzker was joined by the Mayor of Roodhouse Thomas Martin, and 50th District State Senator Steve McClure along with a host of other central Illinois leaders to announce the new program.

Pritzker says “Illinois will use every lever of state government to support all our communities” after “catastrophic pricing surges” are now “demanding an unbearable financial sacrifice from small municipalities and their residents.”

Prices which normally sit around three dollars per MMBTU rose to $300 per MMBTU and even beyond, for reasons that have nothing to do with these towns or their residents. The Village of Franklin estimates their natural gas costs for the month of February alone will be more than two and a half times what the village set aside for the entire year.

The Village of Riverton with a population of about 3500 people got a gas bill for last week alone for $700,000. The Village of Pleasant Hill was charged more than one hundred times the normal cost of natural gas. And Pittsfield racked up $1.4 million of a bill for one week in February. That’s 15% of the city’s annual budget.”

The Panhandle Pipeline implemented restrictions on gas use due to an increase in demands because of the extreme temperatures across the country, as well as a choking of supply in Texas and Oklahoma due to wellhead freeze-offs at production sites. Since then, natural gas prices have surged to record levels.

Mayor Thomas Martin says Roodhouse has had its own nonprofit municipal electric for 100 years and nonprofit gas for nearly the same, and in all that time they have never had to ask for help to operate their city. Martin says, however, that this time they are there.

The February 1st gas price on the pipeline from which we take our natural gas was $2.50 a dekatherm. From February 13th to the 16th gas prices went all over the place and ended up $224.00 a dekatherm. An increase of about one hundred times what we had just paid the two weeks previous.”

Pritzker says the IFA loan program would assist impacted municipalities by allowing them to spread the payments across a more manageable timeframe without placing an overwhelming burden on their residents or businesses. The IFA is currently fine-tuning the specifics of the program ahead of their special meeting on Thursday, February 25th at noon, which will formalize the request.

Mayor Martin says the help can’t come soon enough for communities like Roodhouse.

To give you an idea, for us in January we paid $60,850 for gas. For February we’re estimated to be $457,000. As a nonprofit municipality working to serve our community, we can’t recover that in a single month. What this program will do is give us time to look for help from our legislators and stretch this balance out over a year or two of payments where our near poverty community and the city can afford to survive this.”

State Senator Steve McClure again thanked the Governor for his swift action in declaring a statewide natural disaster emergency on February 16th, during the polar vortex last week that blanketed much of the country in ice, snow, and arctic temperatures.

Pritzker continued to call for the federal government to step in with more assistance for communities impacted by the natural gas crisis.

McClure, who attended emergency meetings in both Winchester and Pawnee last night, says he was relieved when Pritzker called him last week to discuss the impact rural communities were facing and that his administration was paying close attention.

McClure thanked the Governor for his leadership on this issue, and says “it’s bi-partisan times like this where we can all come together, so let’s come together and do what we can for this state.”