WAUKEE, Iowa — Asia Olson went out to her mailbox Monday afternoon with high hopes. “It was my birthday last Friday, so I was thinking maybe I would have some birthday cards in there,” said Olson. What she left with was a high utility bill. “I was hit with a $388 Waukee bill and usually it’s anywhere from $100 to $150,” said Olson.
The City of Waukee estimates city natural gas usage for residents increased 41% from January to February with an average increase of $200 to their current bill. Olson said, “I guess I feel fortunate that ours was only $388 because some of our neighbors said theirs were over $500.”
The historic cold snap is triggering natural gas price hikes across the country. City leaders say cold temperatures in Texas led to natural gas pipeline freeze-offs and constricting supply. Waukee Mayor Courtney Clarke said, “Historically we have hedged 80% of our normal winter purchases to avoid these issues. Unfortunately, February was so extraordinary that hedging 80% of our normal didn’t do enough to hedge the full amount that was required.”
At Monday night’s city council meeting, members voted unanimously to allocate $50,000 toward utility bill relief to low-income residents. Mayor Clarke said, “It was very important as we struggle with COVID that we make sure this doesn’t further impact people and their ability to get ahead.”
With nearly 8,000 accounts for city gas, the City of Waukee has owned and operated the gas utility since 1966. Residents linked to the city gas were expecting a small increase due to a cold February but feel this is alarming. “We’ve never had a bill this high before,” said Olson.
Facing similar adversity, MidAmerican Energy recently told its residential customers to expect a $214 annual increase, which comes to about $18 per month. “There will be discussions going forward about how do we improve our hedging strategies, how do we improve partnerships, how do we improve storage capacity. All of those things will be on the table.”
Residents who won’t qualify for relief, like Olson, have the option to also spread the cost over 12 or 18 months, but there is no escaping it. She said, “As homeowners, we are financially responsible enough to be able to pay our monthly bills, but it’s still a sticker shock when you open a bill that’s usually half of this.”
Waukee residents can call 515-978-5502 to set up payment plans or assistance with their utilities bill. Normal payment levels are expected to return in the March billing cycle.