Did price gouging occur during winter storms? Federal regulators say the answer is coming soon.

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Federal energy regulators said Tuesday they expected the results of an investigation into price gouging during February's winter storm sooner rather than later.

Federal energy regulators said Tuesday they expected the results of an investigation into price gouging during February's Winter Storm Uri sooner rather than later, responding to questions from U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.

The storm prompted natural gas prices go through the roof, slamming Kansas municipalities and resulting in plans from energy companies to pass price hikes onto consumers. Both state and federal regulators, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, launched investigations into whether natural gas companies or middlemen engaged in price gouging.

More:Natural gas spikes 'appear to violate Kansas law.' AG Derek Schmidt seeks expert help.

Richard Glick, chairman of FERC, told Marshall and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday that there were several "anomalies" found during their initial review, all of which have been passed along to the agency's investigations unit.

"We’re moving forward," Glick said. "It takes awhile, unfortunately, because we have to go through a lot of data. We haven’t made any final determinations yet."

Glick added he was "hoping" the review would be completed in a matter of months.

 Marshall pointed to the stratospheric bills seen by small businesses and municipalities in Kansas, pointing an $8 million tab for the city of Winfield in February, orders of magnitude higher than their normal $130,000 monthly bill.

More:Kansas utilities, municipalities have plans to recoup record energy bills. Here they are.

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall pushed federal regulators for a timeframe on when an investigation into potential price gouging will be completed.

"I just want to make sure you all are feeling the same pain that Kansans are feeling from the economic costs of the February winter events," Marshall said. "I hope that you can feel the same pain that we’re going to feel for a decade."

Customers with the state's largest natural gas utility could see their bills increase by between $5 and $17, with the costs for Kansas Gas Service customers potentially spread out across as much as 10 years.

Evergy, the largest electric utility for much of eastern Kansas, has proposed a $4.69 per month charge for the next two years in a bid to make up for the $153 million in extraordinary costs incurred by the company.

More:Customers of Kansas' main natural gas utility to see bills rise after February cold snap

The Natural Gas Transportation Customer Coalition, a consumer advocacy legal group on energy matters, has pegged the ultimate costs to ratepayers at up to $1 billion.

Still, the Kansas Corporation Commission denied a request from the NGTCC earlier this month to subpoena gas invoices and market documents in a bid to determine if price gouging occurred. Instead, it has deferred to federal and state regulators on those questions.

“We are focused on the conduct of our regulated utilities,” KCC Chairman Andrew French said during a hearing on the matter.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said earlier this month the natural gas price spikes during the February winter storm "appear to violate Kansas law," and he is seeking expert help with the investigation and potential lawsuits.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.