OG&E, Canadian Valley talk impact of winter storm on bills

OG&E requests to spread recovery out 10 years

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star

The polar vortex that wreaked havoc on middle America has melted away, and as boil orders are lifted and area residents get broken pipes repaired, it almost seems as if the storm is in the past. However, after multiple days of trying to warm homes up 70 or more degrees from the frigid temperatures outside, one question that might haunt residents is, “What will my utility bills look like after this?”

Local companies OG&E and Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative, Inc., both issued statements to customers recently, addressing that concern.

When it comes to the winter storm, both companies mentioned there are two separate concerns with billing.

The first concern with utility bills is higher usage due to the single-digit and sub-zero temperatures that swept through the area.

This, OG&E said, can vary depending on factors such as how customers heat their homes (for example, whether they use gas or electric heating sources).

In a letter to Canadian Valley members, CEO Gary Highley said the company's member service representatives can assist those hit by large utility bills due to the winter storm, and that there are options such as payment plans, budget billing, and local agency assistance available.

The second concern, however, is due to higher costs that resulted from rising demand and limited supply.

“Natural gas demand rose dramatically during the recent winter weather, which, combined with severe supply issues, caused a significant escalation in prices,” said Brian Alford, OG&E spokesman. “We estimate the cost to support our customers’ demand during the record low cold temperatures to be approximately $1 billion in terms of natural gas and purchased power. To add perspective, this amount exceeds our total fuel costs for all of last year.”

Alford said the recovery process the company would normally take would place an “excessive burden” on customers, requiring the fuel costs to be recovered during the remainder of 2021.

To combat the issue, the statement from OG&E said, the company has taken an “unprecedented step” and filed an application with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, asking to extend the recovery period to 10 years. A portion of the associated fuel costs would be included in the immediate recovery request, beginning with the April 2021 billing cycle and continuing through the remainder of the year. This, OG&E said, would result in a fuel cost-related increase of less than 10% for the average customer.

“To further mitigate the impact on customers, the company is seeking approval to establish alternative regulatory treatment that would delay recovery of the remaining and more substantial balance over a 10-year period beginning in January 2022,” the OG&E release said.

OG&E said it plans to file its testimony in the proceedings within the next few weeks.

In his letter to Canadian Valley customers, Highley also addressed the fluctuations in power and fuel costs, stating that those costs were at times 1,000% above normal rates, though he went on to say it could take “several weeks” before the full impact on operations and expenses is understood.

Highley said the Canadian Valley Management Team and Board of Directors are working with Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (the company's wholesale power supplier), which is in turn working with suppliers and market representatives in the Southwest Power Pool, to understand the full impact of the storm.

“They are working to find ways to minimize the impact to all of our members,” Highley said. “Additionally, all of us in this power distribution chain continue to work with the state government bodies and regulators to provide any relief possible.”

Watch for updates.

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter with The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com.