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Kansas condo board says it’s being forced to pay twice for gas used during 2021 winter storm

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Kansas condo board says it’s being forced to pay twice for gas used during 2021 winter storm

Sep 19, 2023 | 10:00 am ET
By Allison Kite
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Kansas condo board says it’s being forced to pay twice for gas used during 2021 winter storm
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A weeklong cold wave in February 2021 sparked an energy crisis which drove the price of natural gas to 200 times its price a few days before. A condo association complained to state regulators that it's being forced to pay the price for that gas twice. (Max McCoy/Kansas Reflector)

For an Overland Park condo association, the next natural gas bill after a historic cold snap more than two years ago was stunning.

Pinebrooke Condominium Subdivision Association, in Overland Park, typically paid about $4,500 for its members’ monthly bills. But its February 2021 bill came to more than $280,000. It settled and paid 75% of that.

Now, according to a complaint the group filed with regulators, it’s being forced to pay again.

“We are not opposed to paying our fair amount,” Christy Londerholm, president of the Pinbrooke homeowners’ association,” said in an email. “… It’s unreasonable for us to have to pay twice.”

Winter Storm Uri struck the central United States in February 2021, bringing days of sub-zero temperatures and wind chill. The extreme cold forced rolling electrical blackouts, and natural gas prices rose by a factor of 200 within days.

Most residential customers were spared from paying the exorbitant costs immediately. Natural gas and electric utilities have spread out the cost of the storm to be recouped over years.

Some customers have sued suppliers of Kansas’ gas utilities, including BP Energy.

But as a commercial customer, Pinebrooke, which represents 230 households, had to weather the enormous charge.

After the storm, the association — which receives dues from residents and, in turn, pays utility bills and maintains homes, street lights, roofs and more — became a traditional retail customer of the Kansas Gas Service, the largest natural gas utility in the state.

It previously purchased gas from Symmetry Energy Solutions, which sells gas to large customers using Kansas Gas Service’s transportation infrastructure.

According to a complaint filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, Kansas Gas Service assured the condo association that it would waive charges associated with Winter Storm Uri because, at the time of the storm, the community purchased its gas from Symmetry and had already paid that company.

The complaint says the Kansas Gas Service “incurred no costs, extraordinary or otherwise, related to gas sales to Pinebrooke in February 2021.”

But starting late last year, the condo association’s bills included costs associated with the storm. Over the coming 10 years, according to the complaint, the extra charge associated with the storm would cost the condo association $173,844, which the complaint calls “unconscionable.”

“It would require Pinebrooke and its members, largely retired condominium owners, to pay twice for costs incurred in the Winter Storm Uri and create a windfall for other KGS sales customers unrelated to any costs incurred due to the Winter Storm Uri,” the complaint says.

Londerholm said the condo association has other upgrades it needs to make, including replacing the plumbing in one of its buildings.

“Our HOA takes care of everything,” she said. “That’s the beauty of it.” 

Having to pay twice for the huge costs of the storm, she said, “hinders our ability to be able to manage our budget.”

The complaint asks that the Kansas Corporation Commission declare the charges “unfair, unjust and unduly discriminatory.”

The Kansas Gas Service received permission from state regulators to securitize the extraordinary charges and spread them out for customers over the next 10 years rather than charge customers, on average, hundreds of dollars right after the storm.

Single-household customers are expected to pay $5.64 each month so the utility can recoup what it spent to keep natural gas flowing during the storm.

In a statement, the gas utility noted state regulators approved the mechanism, which outlines which customers are subject to the charges.

“Kansas Gas Service is following the KCC order,” the company said.