Roodhouse, White Hall, Winchester Begin Repayment of February Gas Bills

By Benjamin Cox on April 3, 2021 at 12:50pm

Roodhouse and White Hall municipal natural gas customers have some relief from the unusually high February bills coming their way.

To combat the large bills, the White Hall City Council passed an additional $1.60 per dekatherm on natural gas usage for the next 3 years as they work to pay off the huge bill that came the city’s way in February. White Hall’s February gas bill totaled around $600,000, more than 6 times its normal total for a month. The Illinois Finance Authority granted White Hall a $499,000, 1% interest loan to cover the cost. The loan will have to be paid off over the next 20 years. The White Hall City council approved the gas rate hike over the next 3 years to cover the balance, which according to the city’s gas engineer Lindsay Enloe, will only raise monthly bills to between $8-10 a month on average. The gas rate hike is expected to be seen on this month’s bill.

The Roodhouse City Council has opted to trust its customers to pay back their February bills in installments over time. Roodhouse received an IFA loan for $452,688.76 for a portion of their balance. Roodhouse has given customers the option to pay off their February bill in a lump sum payment or over an agreed to amount of installments based upon their usage.

Winchester officials were notified on Tuesday by Utility Gas Management, the municipality’s gas supply company, that some of the city’s February bill may be credited back as early as May. The Scott County Times says that the credits are due to a waiver of Panhandle Eastern’s penalties incurred on February 15th by FERC. Mayor Rex McIntire told the Times that the amount the city is being credited is not currently known. McIntire said the credits is due to the city’s residents massive reduction of usage during the gas crisis in February, and the city didn’t accrue any penalties for their usage like other municipal utilities. McIntire says that over 200 residents have paid their February bills in full. The City of Winchester is allowing residents to take up to 33 months to pay off their balance along with their regular month’s gas usage.

Several of the municipalities effected by the gas rate hike along the Panhandle Eastern Pipeline received good news this week while not related to the February gas crisis. A presiding administrative law judge issued an initial decision in a current case before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about Panhandle’s delivery rates.

Panhandle filed to impose a major rate increase in August 2019, including a change to its mechanism for allocating costs to small municipal customers, which had the effect of raising rates by close to 300%. Pursuant to federal rules, the pipeline was allowed to place those rates into effect pending litigation to determine if they were just and reasonable. The judge found that that Panhandle could only increase its rates by 5% and has required the company to refund the difference it collected since the new rates went into effect to municipal utilities with interest. The judge’s ruling is now pending final approval from FERC. Roodhouse, White Hall, and Winchester were among other municipalities that were named part of the case seeking relief.

The municipalities are hoping, pending final reviews in the case, that they will receive major refunds on their invoices and receive the considerably lower gas transportation charges in the future. Other litigation about possible price gouging during the natural gas crisis from February remains pending.