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'Vast Majority' Of Oklahomans Won't See Huge Energy Bill After Storms But Officials To Look At Issue

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Updated Feb. 23, 11:50 a.m. to clarify only unregulated gas utilities may not spread out increased costs.  

State officials said Monday most Oklahomans will not see utility bills in the thousands of dollars after last week’s historic winter storms that plunged the state into subzero temperatures and strained the regional power grid.

Oklahoma Secretary of Energy Ken Wagner said people will pay for their increased usage — easily two to three times what’s normal — but not for utilities’ cost of natural gas. The commodity’s spot prices soared to 100 times their typical levels.

"The vast majority of Oklahomans’ only increases will be a direct result of their usage in this most immediate billing cycle, and then over time, you will see worked put how we pay for whatever charges are unmitigated and left to be borne by the consumers," Wagner said.

Wagner said customers served by small, unregulated gas utilities like municipal providers may be on the hook, however, because they may not have the financial stability to spread increased costs out over time.

Skyrocketing energy bills have been reported out of Texas, where state regulators let utilities increase the price of electricity to 75 times its typical cost.

Oklahoma officials are taking some actions, though. The House, Senate and Corporation Commission will hold hearings and look at options for assistance, and Attorney General Mike Hunter is investigating whether sharply increased natural gas prices violated the state’s price gouging law.

Hunter is also asking utilities to suspend automatic payments for two or three months.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said officials have two goals in mind.

"No. 1, to do everything we can to help Oklahomans get financial assistance for their upcoming bills, and No. 2, to get to the bottom of this and learn what we need to do so this never happens again," Stitt said.

The Southwest Power Pool, which manages the regional power grid, told utilities to implement planned outages several times. Corporation Commission Public Utility Division Director Brandy Wreath said the deep freeze will force the organization to revise its weather models.

"They’ll have to look at different contingency plans. They’ll have to look at different reserve capacity to be on the system. So, this literally will change many things on the system," Wreath said.

Along with much of the central U.S., parts of Oklahoma remained below freezing for more than two weeks.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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