Heating costs, driven by high fuel prices, pile on customers already behind on bills

February 26, 2022

Duluth News Tribune

Alex Derosier

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans have seen their utility bills rise this winter in response to climbing energy prices. While the portion of customers behind on payments has remained steady, filings with state regulators show the amount they owe has grown.

In keeping with a general national trend of inflation, the price of fuels such as natural gas, propane and heating oil is substantially higher now than it has been in recent years. The upward trend in natural gas prices is driven by an overall increase in demand, but many Minnesota utility customers are also seeing higher bills due to natural gas price surges linked to the February 2021 Texas winter power crisis.

It was already apparent before winter that heating bills would grow, and the impact has largely been on Minnesota residents who already struggled to pay bills.

“People who have been financially well-off are generally doing OK still and the folks that have been in trouble are falling further behind,” explained Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota, a utility customer advocacy nonprofit. “We’re not seeing a larger portion of customers being behind on their bills overall, but those people that are behind owe more now on average than they did two years ago.”

Monthly compliance filings from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for three utilities that provide natural gas to more than 2 million customers across the state show average bills have climbed significantly since last year.

Filings for Xcel Energy show the average utility bill climbed from $115 in January 2021 to $158 in January 2022 — an increase of 37%. Filings from Minnesota Energy Resources, a natural gas utility that serves more than 200,000 customers in communities including Rochester, Detroit Lakes and Wadena, saw its average January bill jump from $98 in 2021 to $202 in 2022 — a 106% increase. The utility estimates the average customer will spend $44 extra per month to heat a home this winter.

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Author: Hannah Hoeger

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