Gov. Kelly signs bill helping cities facing sky-high energy costs from winter storm

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – Governor Laura Kelly signed a bill that Kansas lawmakers pushed forward Wednesday, which is set to aid cities facing high-energy costs as a result of the recent winter storm.

Senate Bill 88 establishes a $100 million low-interest loan program for municipal utilities facing high utility bills after last month’s frigid temperatures. 

This loan program was absolutely necessary for our cities to manage the surging utility costs,” Governor Kelly said. “It gives cities the immediate relief they need to avoid dire financial decisions while we pursue other, long-term solutions.”

State lawmakers took swift action on the bill, with both the House and Senate voting to pass the bill favorably.

“This is what government should be,” said Representative Rui Xu, D-Westwood. “This is what good government looks like. Everybody working together quickly to help solve a problem.”

Rep. Xu and other lawmakers fast-tracked the bill, holding hearings on the measure Wednesday morning, then voting to pass the bill the same day.

The city utility low-interest loan program allows cities to apply to the state treasurer’s office for loans from state unencumbered funds for extraordinary electric or natural gas costs. In one example, the town of Winfield said it paid $10 million in natural gas expenses over six days of cold temperatures.

State lawmakers say it’s their top priority to get these cities help as soon as possible.

“It was just imperative to do because an individual that had normally a $150 electric bill could end up to be an over $1000 electric bill, even more for businesses,” said Representative Jim Kelly, D-Westwood.

In February, the state faced arctic weather so cold that it resulted in rolling blackouts to help conserve energy and natural gas.

Now, communities in Kansas that receive their utilities from a service not regulated by the state are seeing sky-high bills, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for some cities.

Lawmakers are hoping the new measure will help offset the sky-high prices.

“This loan program is very important to our cities,” said Gov. Kelly. “It gives them the immediate relief they need to avoid dire financial decisions, while we pursue other long-term solutions.”

The governor said she’s working with the state treasurer’s office to ensure the money can be administered immediately. Kelly’s also pushed for a federal investigation to help the state face future emergencies. It’s also caused other state leaders, like U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, to look at federal options for aid.

“At the moment, we’re in conversations certainly with the Kansas Corporations Commission, with the Association of Communities, talked to mayors and public officials across Kansas, from a Washington D.C. point of view, looking to see whether LIHEAP, the funding that’s available to pay for utility bills in winter, might be available for this. We’ve also talked with FEMA to see if there is a request from the state of Kansas for a disaster declaration, to see what FEMA could provide.”

U.S. SEN. JERRY MORAN

One of the resources for Kansans experiencing high-energy costs include the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, LIEAP, which helps eligible households pay a portion of their home energy costs by providing a one-time per year benefit.

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