BRAINERD, Minn. – Tuesday at its annual summer conference in Brainerd, the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association awarded Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL – Hibbing) its Public Service Award. Rep. Sandstede earned the award for her support of municipal utilities, particularly her efforts to obtain relief funding for municipal utilities and their customers who were hit hard by the effects of the 2021 polar vortex.
“I’m deeply grateful to the membership of MMUA – including Hibbing Public Utilities – for their recognition. Consumers should expect affordable, reliable energy, but after the 2021 polar vortex, natural gas prices spiked 5,000%. Ratepayers – who comprise the ownership of a municipal utility – deserve relief,” Rep. Sandstede said. “At its core, the impact municipal utilities and consumers faced in 2021 boils down to price gouging. Global behemoths that supply wholesale natural gas to our utilities being able to profit off of people to such a ridiculous degree in the middle of winter is outrageous. I remain committed to delivering stronger protections to ensure companies can’t get away with unconscionable price gouging to take advantage of consumers.”
During the 2022 legislative session, the Minnesota House approved Rep. Sandstede’s legislation to offer $20 million in rebates to municipal utilities that faced extreme increases in the wholesale price of natural gas during a Polar Vortex in the southern United States. The bill also included tax credits for ratepayers who faced excessive energy costs during that five-day period from February 12-17, 2021.
With shorter contracts and purchase agreements than investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities lack the capacity or the cash flow to budget for such a sudden price hike. As a result, HPU was left with no other option but to pass along the costs to ratepayers, the same people who serve as ownership of the utility.
Due to disagreements on other issues toward the end of the legislative session, Rep. Sandstede’s legislation stalled without becoming law. During the conference, she committed to continued advocacy for the legislation should a special session come to fruition.