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Shortage of natural gas, electricity a real possibility this winter

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A shortage of natural gas and electricity this winter could cause utility rates to double and possibly cause rolling blackouts or brownouts in this area.

The Missouri Public Utility Alliance issued a memo recently, and copies were distributed to the Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen for discussion during the Nov. 15 study session.

“This is not looking at a seven-day gas and energy possibility of a shortage; this is looking at the whole winter,” explained Don Schuette, director of electric utilities for the City of Jackson. “Prices are going to soar,” he reported.

“I want to tell you, it’s out of our hands,” he added. “It’s something we can’t regulate. It’s something we have to just follow along with it, and hopefully, we’ll have a milder winter.”

“I’m hoping for a mild winter,” interjected City Administrator Jim Roach.

“We give you the worst news and hope for the best,” commented Schuette. “As it stacks up here, and you can read in your memo, it’s not looking too good for energy markets. We need to try to get our customers to try to do whatever they can to start learning how to conserve earlier this year, before they get into a jam. When things get really bad, that’s not the time to learn how to do something. They have to learn how to start conserving energy now so they don’t have bills stacking up later.”

“There’s two components to this,” added Roach. “There is the pricing component, but there is also a supply component or restraints.”

“There is a very good likelihood that supply constraints are going to be put into effect this year,” Schuette continued. Those constraints could lead to rolling blackouts and brownouts here in Jackson, he said.

The memo from MPUA reads, in part:

“As you might have heard in the news recently, winter energy prices and supply issues could hit utility customers again. Unfortunately, many of the items necessary to mitigate the causes of the February 2021 energy emergency will take time to implement so it is necessary to take precautions now. …

“Plus, existing market conditions are not favorable. The natural gas market is already experiencing higher prices due to supply shortages which in turn could impact the electric grid. Since there are no quick and easy fixes to these issues, utilities need to prepare for the chance of another critical event this winter.

“The most important thing to do to mitigate negative impacts is to work with utility customers to reduce energy usage, especially during times with limited supplies and high prices.

“Natural gas prices will be higher this winter. The natural gas market is based on supply and demand. Demand for natural gas has been high both domestically and internationally.

“The market price of natural gas last winter was roughly $2.82 per million British Thermal Unit (BTU). Current forecasts show winter prices around $4.80 per million BTU. This wholesale cost increase means an average homeowner’s monthly bill could double.

“Electricity could also have supply and demand issues resulting in high prices and pleas for conservation. Less natural gas could be available to generate electricity since it is also used for heating.

“Extreme, prolonged winter weather could make the situation even worse.

“To maintain grid reliability, alerts for reducing electric consumption could occur if demand outpaces supply. … Demand can’t outpace electric supplies or catastrophic grid failure with blackouts could occur. …

“City utilities need to notify their customers about high energy prices and ways to conserve. Conservation techniques will come in handy if another energy emergency is declared again this year. …

“Cast a wide net and repeat messages throughout the winter. People will be more ready to act in a time of crisis if they already understand why their participation in saving energy is important. …

“People in your community can help brainstorm ways to help reduce energy loads but also can help you plan for emergencies like required reduction in energy consumption.

“Large industries and commercial enterprises are key members of your local economy and can help shed large amounts of electric and natural gas during a crisis. High energy prices can also impact their bottom line, so they need to be aware of high price events. … Help them identify ways within their business that have the largest savings potential.

“Residential and small businesses can make the biggest dent in their energy use by reducing the need for heating. Some items to lower energy use are free or easy do-it-yourself projects. See our list of energy efficiency suggestions here: https://-cdn.ymaws.com/mpua.org/-resource/resmgr/docs/Winter-EnergyEfficiencyTips-_M.pdf.

“Team up with local heating and cooling contractors and insulation companies on how you can work together to better serve your community.

“Check with social service agencies, like community action agencies, who can help with home weatherization or utility bill assistance for low-income members in your city. Civic groups and churches can also be valuable partners in helping the economically challenged.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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