Kansas House advances bill to help cities facing high-energy bills from extreme winter weather

Capitol Bureau

FORT WORTH, TX – FEBRUARY 16: Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Kansas House took emergency final action Wednesday on a bill that would allow cities to take out low-interest loans to cover high utility costs offset by the freezing temperatures the state experienced in February.

The bill, HB 2429, was added as a substitute to a Senate bill on Wednesday. The measure establishes a city utility low-interest loan program, allowing cities to apply to the state treasurer’s office for loans from state unencumbered funds for extraordinary electric or natural gas costs incurred during the extreme winter weather last month. In one example, the town of Winfield said it paid $10 million in natural gas expenses over six days of cold temperatures.

Representative Rui Xu, D-Westwood, who serves as the Ranking Minority Member for the state’s Financial Institutions and Rural Development Committee, spoke in favor of the bill’s passage. He noted that taking action on the bill is an example of “good government,” in which leaders on both sides of the aisle work together to help Kansans that are struggling.

“We all came together to get this out as quickly as possible,” Xu said. “Good government is supposed to smooth the edges, and that’s what, to a large extent, is what this bill does. It smooths the costs over a long period of time.”

The Financial Institutions and Rural Development Committee held a hearing on the bill Monday morning, then expedited the process to bring it to the House floor.

The bill would allow up to $100 million in idle fund balances to be loaned to cities
that could only be used for the amount of extraordinary electric or natural gas costs from the winter storm.

Representative Ken Collins, R-Mulberry, said cities in his district are still feeling the financial impact of the storm.

“It makes me proud to think that we as a legislature, as a state, are doing something to help these people,” Collins said.

The freezing temperatures affected several states across the country. In Kansas, it left the regional power grid Evergy is a part of struggling to keep up with consumer usage of energy, as electricity generators like coal plants and wind turbines suffered malfunctions in the weather. Natural gas ballooned in price with a reduction in supply, causing the Kansas governor to call for a federal investigation into what happened, and other state leaders like Sen. Jerry Moran to look at federal options for aid.

“At the moment, we’re in conversations certainly with the Kansas Corporations Commission, with the Association of Communities, talked to mayors and public officials across Kansas, from a Washington D.C. point of view, looking to see whether LIHEAP, the funding that’s available to pay for utility bills in winter, might be available for this. We’ve also talked with FEMA to see if there is a request from the state of Kansas for a disaster declaration, to see what FEMA could provide.”

Sen. Jerry Moran

Senator Jerry Moran said he’d be looking into ways to help aid utility costs, and mentioned several options. In particular, he referenced a federal benefits program for low-income families that assists in covering energy bills for heating or cooling in the summer or winter months.

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