Illinois Cities Struggle With Rising Gas Prices, Utility Bills
While Illinois is used to temperatures well below freezing for long periods of time, the area of the country that supplies natural gas to many cities in central Illinois is not and this is causing massive increases in gas prices. price of utility bills.
Some schools in central Illinois have been closed all week – first because of heavy snow and cold, and then because schools couldn’t afford to heat buildings properly.
The North Greene School District at White Hall has been closed since Wednesday. In an email posted to the school’s website, city officials warned the school that its utility bill could rise to $ 100,000 for each day it remains open at least this week. .
In Riverton, the school district lowered the temperature of buildings to 55 degrees to help the village conserve natural gas and keep costs as low as possible. The students have been on leave for the entire week, with the exception of a distance learning day scheduled for Wednesday.
“I didn’t expect 55 to look as cold as it is inside,” Riverton Superintendent Brad Polanin said.
The Auburn school district has also been closed since Wednesday.
“This rare phenomenon has a different impact on each community depending on whether their provider has blocked tariffs or if they have reservations,” Auburn Superintendent Darren Root said in a message to parents and students.
Natural gas prices soared last Saturday amid fears of a harsh winter in Texas, Oklahoma and along the Gulf Coast. For Riverton, prices for its supply have skyrocketed from $ 3 per decatherm, the energy unit used to measure natural gas, to $ 225 per decatherm – an increase of 7,500%.
Riverton Mayor Tom Rader said the village spent $ 940,000 last year on natural gas. In just five days this week, he spent $ 640,000 and some estimates have shown that the expense could exceed $ 700,000 just for this week.
Rader said prices fell to $ 6 per decatherm on Thursday, which is still double the typical cost.
Future prices, however, remain uncertain and will vary from place to place.
Rader said they are in contact with state and federal lawmakers, as well as Gov. JB Pritzker’s office, for help in alleviating some of the costs that will be passed on to the residents. Earlier this week, Pritzker declared a statewide disaster due to the winter storm and in response to events in the southern plains, causing gas prices to rise.
“The state is working with our federal counterparts to identify all funding mechanisms available to the state, including, but not limited to, Small Business Administration loans and the state aid or aid program. FEMA individual, ”said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Rebecca Clark.
“Gov. Pritzker’s swift action in declaring a statewide winter emergency offers our local cities the opportunity to receive help. While aid does not appear as if by magic just when it is needed, we will continue to work to ensure that our communities get the help they need so much, ”said State Representative CD. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville.
Rader doesn’t know how much residents will have to pay on their utility bills, which will arrive in April and May. Polanin said he was concerned for many low-income families in the village who will struggle to afford such a large increase. However, Rader said he had seen natural gas consumption decline in the village since he informed residents last weekend of the price hike.
The Illinois Commerce Commission is monitoring the situation and encouraging residents across the state to conserve energy by setting their thermostats to 68 degrees and not using unnecessary appliances.
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“Despite all the recent snow and cold, Illinois has not experienced significantly prolonged power outages … advanced planning has served our state well,” ICC President Carrie Zalewski said in a statement. .
With snow on the Mexican border and single-digit temperatures along the Texas Gulf Coast, Texas has been hit by widespread power outages as oil wells froze in a state unaccustomed to the temperatures. extremes. The state that normally produces energy for itself and other states has been unable to meet demand, resulting in higher prices for natural gas. In cold weather, demand for natural gas is high to help heat buildings, but when demand exceeds supply of the product, prices rise.
Rader said that even when the Gulf Coast was hit by hurricanes, they haven’t seen price increases as dramatic as they are seeing now.
“It was a historic event for them, but we’ve never seen (oil) wells freeze up and have these kinds of problems before. We certainly asked this question: what caused this, ”Rader said.
“It’s a fallout effect for us and we’ve absolutely seen the detrimental effects of it,” Polanin said.
The cold in the south is also pushing up gas prices for Illinois drivers. The state’s average gas price is up to $ 2.79 per gallon, according to AAA. That’s up 12 cents from last week and nearly 30 cents from last month.