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September 25, 2021

Oklahoma regulators hear utilities' ideas to limit future cold snap costs

Regulated Oklahoma utilities are considering returning to an old-school way of buying fuel used to support power generating needs, potentially protecting customers from the types of astronomical price spikes seen in recent extreme winter weather.

At least during winter months, utilities are considering a move away from the current practice of paying for fuel based upon daily spot prices, to one where fixed prices are used for the entire month.

That could smooth some short-lived cost spikes, like the one between Feb. 10 and 15. During that week, natural gas values on daily spot markets climbed 28,574.5% and wholesale electricity costs followed suit, utility officials said.

Those additional costs eventually get passed to customers. Utility companies and state regulators are currently grappling with ways to recover some costs from that storm, which will likely cost Oklahomans in excess of $4.5 billion. If prices had been set for the duration of the month, consumers might not now be facing larger bills for the next decade-plus. 

But setting one price for the month could leave customers paying more during months where daily fuel costs dip below the agreed-upon monthly rate.

Utility representatives discussed that issue and others with members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission during a meeting earlier this month.

"The strategy of buying gas on the spot market has been beneficial to our customers over the years. This event (in February) has changed our perspective," said Clint Stutler, PSO's Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's manager of natural gas procurement. 

Gerald Wilson, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.'s director of fuel and market operations, told commissioners it too is exploring switching away from daily pricing to first-of-month (fixed) pricing for some of the gas it uses.

"In the recent past, we have had no issues with supply and pricing had been relatively steady," Wilson said. "Now (after experiencing February's storm). we are looking at price stability and the potential for additional supply."

OG&E's winter storm fuel costs

OG&E is lowering the total of February storm costs it is requesting to recover from customers from $875 million to $769 million, a spokeswoman said this week.

The utility revised its request before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission after the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) finished determining what OG&E was owed for electricity it put onto the grid during the storm that was used by other SPP participants, she said.

"If our request is approved, the average residential customer would see an increase to their monthly bill of $3.12 over 15 years, $2.52 over 20 years, or $1.99 over 28 years," said Christi Woodworth, OG&E's vice president of corporate communications, brand & marketing.

The market has changed as renewables have been added

Utilities have changed the way they buy fuel to generate power as more renewable energy has been added to the grid.

The added resources allowed utilities to become less reliant on their own resources to meet consumer demands for electricity during certain times of the year.

As additional wind sources have been added, utilities across much of the Great Plains have gradually shifted toward using more responsive natural gas-fueled systems to generate electricity. Natural gas, most of the time, is cheaper and can be tapped more quickly than coal.

In 2014, the SPP adopted the daily spot pricing system for electricity, where it estimates how much is needed based on daily power needs and estimated resources available. 

Between then and February, the market consistently provided power users across SPP's footprint some of the lowest electricity costs in the nation.

A perfect storm disrupted the system

February's cold snap provided a harsh reminder that utilities' reliance upon presumed operating conditions and fuel costs can be risky.

During February's storm, power demands from users who needed electricity to help run their home and business heating systems spiked across the Great Plains and Texas, where lengthy power outages killed some residents.

Renewable sources across SPP's footprint, meanwhile, sometimes couldn't perform as needed because of calm winds and because some wind turbines had been disabled by freezing fog early on during the event.

That left utilities relying heavily on natural gas-fired units to meet climbing power needs, just as demand for that fuel as a heating source for homes and businesses also spiked.

At the same time, natural gas production across Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana fell by 50% because of freeze offs involving producing wells and natural gas processing facilities, stated a preliminary report presented to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this week.  

Federal energy officials excoriated Texas in the same report for the state's fierce electrical independence, saying that likely helped contribute to the deaths of hundreds of Texans during the February freeze. 

Because some generators couldn't obtain the fuel needed to create electricity, that put even more pressure on the availability of surplus electricity.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us. There was a similar inquiry after Texas experienced extreme cold weather in 2011, but those recommendations were not acted on,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said.

“We can’t allow this to happen again. This time, we must take these recommendations seriously and act decisively to ensure the bulk power system doesn’t fail the next time extreme weather hits. I cannot, and will not, allow this to become yet another report that serves no purpose other than to gather dust on the shelf.”

Earlier this summer, FERC strengthened already in-place rules to add fines of up to $1 million a day after reviewing an evaluation of a similar cold snap in early 2018 that forced various power generating units offline in the deep south.

The regulations take effect April 1, 2023.

"This is a new level in terms of requirements for the planning and operating process across the country, but local and state decisions can have an impact as well," said Elliott  Nethercutt, the principal economist for the National Regulatory Research Institute, the research arm of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

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September 21, 2021

OG&E wants $875 million from its customers. Here's what to know about the request

Oklahoma Gas & Electric began alerting customers this month of a request it intends to make before regulatory officials that would allow the utility to charge its customers an additional $875 million over the next 13 years.

The utility claims the $875 million is needed to cover costs incurred during February's winter storm. Before OG&E can pass any costs along to consumers, the request must pass through a regulatory process before the state's Corporation Commission.

Here's what we know about the request.

The utility wants to recover $875 million, but costs are still being verified

The notification, sent via both mail and email, informs customers the utility is seeking to recover costs it says were needed to keep power flowing across its portion of the regional grid, a portion that serves 858,000 Oklahomans, during the storm. 

OG&E's final costs will not be known until the Southwest Power Pool (the regional transmission operator) finalizes its verification and dispute resolution processes on costs. Also, expenses the utility submitted to the commission are still being audited. Officials have filed testimony in the pending case that states the company's total storm impact is nearing $1 billion systemwide (which includes parts of Arkansas).

Increased customer costs would likely continue for more than a decade

Filed testimony shows OG&E seeks approval to recover costs by securitizing debt using bonds sold to investors that it proposes would be retired 13 years after they are issued.

More:Methane fee opposed by energy industry wins committee approval

Estimated customer costs remain exactly that — only an estimate

The notification sent by OG&E states an average residential consumer whose home uses 1,100 kilowatt hours a month in electricity could expect to pay an extra $3.93 a month over those 13 years to retire the debt.

However, this estimate is based on the amount of $875 million paid off over 13 years. Neither the dollar amount or length of time to collect that debt is final, and changes made throughout the regulatory process could affect amounts paid by customers.

Arguments abound over total amount and period of repayment

Some have filed testimony arguing some of the total expense should be thrown out by regulatory officials, which could lower the monthly amount paid by customers.

Other testimony filed in the case argues OG&E should extend the payout period for the $875 million to 23 years, which would also reduce that monthly surcharge, but add 10 years to the payoff period.

More:Skydweller raises an extra $8 million to develop solar-powered aircraft in Oklahoma

A recently passed legislative program helps ease customer burdens

The bond indebtedness option pursued by OG&E was created by Oklahoma's legislature to lessen storm costs' impact on consumers. OG&E believes this could reduce average customer bill surcharges, from about $5.67 to the estimated $3.93.

More review, arguments to occur before any final decision is made

A review of OG&E's request commences at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 11 before an administrative law judge at the commission. After reviewing testimony and holding hearings to give interested parties opportunities to argue their positions, the judge will make a recommendation to the commission's three elected members, where more hearings for arguments could take place before a final decision is reached.

You can weigh in 

Public comments on the case, PUD 202100072, can be taken electronically through cs@occ.ok.gov and will be accepted in written form by mail sent to the clerk of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, 2101 N Lincoln, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

A final decision should come before the end of the year

The procedural schedule approved by the commission requires a decision to be reached in the case by Dec. 15, commission documents show.

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April 28, 2021

Press Release
Utility legislation, now law, will protect Oklahoma families, seniors and small businesses

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two Senate bills to help manage huge spikes in energy costs after February’s historic winter storm will protect seniors, families, small businesses and Oklahoma’s economy.  That’s according to Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, chair of the Senate select committee created to study the issue.  Both Senate Bills 1049 and 1050 were recently signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt. 

Leewright, who also chairs the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee, presented the measures on the floor on behalf of Senate principal author, Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson.  Rep. Garry Mize, chair of the House Utilities Committee, is the House principal author.

“I don’t think we can understate how important these two bills are in terms of protecting Oklahomans from being hit with several months of utility bills that would have skyrocketed by thousands of dollars.  The impact on our economy, just as we are recovering from the pandemic, would have been devastating,” Leewright said.  “I’m grateful to the members of both chambers who supported these measures and to Governor Stitt for signing them into law.  These may be two of the most important bills of the session.” 

The measures create a framework for securitization of the approximately $4.5 billion in increased energy costs from the winter storm.  Thompson, R-Okemah, said the measures provide the entire state a critical path forward after the arctic weather system wreaked havoc in states across the country.

“I don’t know many families, seniors, individuals or businesses that could have absorbed such huge increases in their utility bills.  Through these two pieces of legislation, the increases are going to be spread out over several years,” Thompson said. “These measures will protect Oklahoma consumers.”

Both measures took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

“Senate Bill 1049 and Senate Bill 1050 strike a harmonious balance between the needs of our constituents and the needs of utility companies across the state,” Mize said. “These companies will still receive the full amount that is due to them, but all Oklahomans should breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t have a huge surprise bill coming. I was very glad to work with Senator Leewright over the last two months to develop this legislation and am grateful the governor signed it into law.”

Contact info

For more information, contact Sen. James Leewright at 405-521-5528 or email James.Leewright@oksenate.gov

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April 15, 2021

Press Release
Full Senate approves measures to help Oklahomans manage utility bill price spikes

OKLAHOMA CITY – The February winter storm that gripped Oklahoma led to huge spikes in energy costs for Oklahoma ratepayers. The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday advanced measures aimed at helping ratepayers manage the significant financial burden stemming from those increased energy costs.

Senate Bill 1049 and Senate Bill 1050 create a framework for securitization of the approximately $4.5 billion in increased energy costs due to the February winter storm, said Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow and chairman of the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee. Securitization would allow ratepayers to lower their monthly costs associated with the weather event and lengthen the period of time the increased costs could be paid out.

Leewright has led the Senate effort on securitization and presented the measures on the Senate floor for the primary author of the bills, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah.

"These bills protect consumers," said Thompson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This is a bold move by the Legislature for the people of Oklahoma."

Without legislative action, Leewright said ratepayers who normally see an average bill of $100 likely would see their first month’s bill for the February storm costs reach approximately $1,900. He said ratepayers’ second bill with February storm costs could be another $1,500. February storm costs would remain on ratepayers’ bills in smaller, declining amounts for the next several months.

“Oklahoma ratepayers face dramatic and immediate increases in their utility and energy bills due to the February winter storm. Securitization is the best option available to provide relief for families and small businesses in the form of lower monthly payments over an extended period of time. I appreciate my colleagues in the Senate for their consideration and support of these important measures. I look forward to the Oklahoma House taking up these measures and sending them quickly to the governor’s desk to be signed into law,” Leewright said.

The measures are pending in the Oklahoma House and if approved there, would be sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Contact info

For more information, contact Sen. James Leewright at 405-521-5528 or email James.Leewright@oksenate.gov

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April 13, 2021

Press Release
Legislation filed to address price spikes in utility bills due to February winter storm

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation filed in the Oklahoma Senate would help manage the financial burden facing ratepayers due to extreme price spikes in utility and energy bills in the wake of the February winter storm.

Through the process of securitization, Senate Bill 1049 and Senate Bill 1050 both would allow ratepayers to lower their monthly costs associated with the weather event and lengthen the period of time the increased costs could be paid out, said Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, chair of the Senate’s Business, Labor and Commerce Committee, and chair of the Senate Select Committee created to study this issue.

Leewright said it’s estimated that Oklahoma utility ratepayers are obligated for approximately $4.5 billion in increased energy costs associated with the February winter storm. Without action, ratepayers would face dramatic increases in their energy bills, and those bills would be due immediately in large sums.

“Doing nothing to help ratepayers manage that debt load is not an option. If we do nothing, families and seniors on fixed incomes could be faced with choosing between paying their February energy bill or paying for food and medicine,” Leewright said.  “If we do nothing, small businesses could be forced to make layoffs or cutbacks to pay their energy bills. Securitization is the best path forward to help families manage the extreme costs related to the storm, and help small businesses manage the impact as they continue to recover from the pandemic.”

Rep. Gary Mize is chair of the House Utilities Committee.

“I believe the bills we’ve brought forth today strike a good balance between protecting the interests of Oklahomans while also ensuring utility companies receive what is due to them,” said Mize, R-Guthrie. “Our proposed legislation spreads out the costs from Oklahomans’ February bill without adding unnecessary or high financing costs. I’m glad all parties were able to work together to bring forward this solution for our citizens affected by the historic winter weather.”

Legislation Highlights:

  • Securitization of debt allows ratepayers to spread repayment over a period of months and pay a smaller, monthly amount for the February energy costs rather than paying for February usage in one lump sum.
  • Does not increase bond indebtedness of the state or cause any harm to the state budget.
  • Provides many avenues of oversight of through timely audits, extensive vetting and analysis by several state entities, and requiring regular reporting to the executive and legislative branches.

Regulated Utility Consumer Protection Act:

  • Allows increased costs related to the February 2021 winter storm to be securitized via the issuance of bonds backed by ratepayer revenues, reducing the financial impact of extreme costs related to the winter storm. 
    • Creates a property right based on the customer charges for the securitization, which guarantees the holder of the bond will be repaid.
  • Allows Oklahoma Development Finance Authority to issue ratepayer-backed bonds, and requires ODFA to report regularly on the bond activity until the debt is retired.
  • Requires ratepayer-backed bonds go through the Council of Bond Oversight review and get approval from the Attorney General’s Office and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Unregulated Consumer Protection Act

  • Provides for the issuance of loans made pursuant to notes, bonds, revenue bonds, or other forms of indebtedness to reduce for unregulated utility customers the extreme financial impact of costs related to the February 2021 winter storm.
  • Directs the ODFA to: 
    • Receive and review applications for the determination of utility costs related to the February winter storm;
    • Issue written approval or disapproval of an unregulated utility’s application;
    • Issue bonds necessary to fund the Unregulated Utility Customer Protection Fund from which loans are issued; and
    • Issue loans to unregulated utilities for the amount approved in the application process.
  • Requires utility bonds issued to fund the loan program go through the Council of Bond Oversight review and authorizes ODFA to apply for approval of the bonds by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
  • Requires reporting to the governor and legislative leaders on the status of loan applications, when a loan is issued to an unregulated utility, and provide regular updates to those leaders until the debt is retired.

Contact info

For more information, contact:

Sen. James Leewright at 405-521-5528 or email James.Leewright@oksenate.gov

Rep. Garry Mize at 405-557-7350 or email Garry.Mize@okhouse.gov

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April 13, 2021

Proposed legislation could help lower your utility bill following historic winter storm

Oklahoma's lawmakers are hoping to minimize the impact of February's severe weather on consumers and prevent exorbitant rate spikes for households.

Power providers conservatively spent billions of extra dollars to keep energy flowing to customers during this latest storm. This meant customers could see astronomical increases in their bills if utilities passed their costs along to consumers in the usual way. 

For example, before the storm, an average residential customer of a regulated natural gas utility was paying about $100 a month for service, said Brandy Wreath, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's legislative liaison.

That same average customer could have faced a bill of $1,967 during the first month of a traditional repayment term, and could have expected to see similarly high bills for another seven months because providers are required to retire additional costs incurred during a storm in a relatively short period of time. 

But measures co-authored by Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, and Rep. Gary Mize, R-Guthrie, would allow both regulated and non-regulated power providers (and their customers) an opportunity for a much longer period of time to retire those costs, thereby reducing the increases on monthly bills. 

The measures recommend pooling expenses into larger bonds or loans that could be sold to investors. Lawmakers and other government officials expect those bonds and loans would carry a much lower interest rate than individual power providers could get if they took out loans individually.

"Consumers will still pay more, because those costs aren't going away," Wreath said. "But this will bring that per-customer impact down significantly to a more manageable level." 

How would Oklahoma issue the bonds?

The measures propose authorizing the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority to issue bonds and loans to provide additional time for power providers to retire qualified storm-related costs.

One measure would allow the authority to sell bonds to investors that would securitize storm costs for power providers in Oklahoma that are regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC).

These power providers include Oklahoma Natural Gas, CenterPoint Energy, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, a few smaller natural gas providers and a few electric cooperatives.

Regulated entities would be required to submit those costs to the commission.

The commission would determine how much of those costs are eligible, how long providers' customers should be given to retire them, issue appropriate orders setting up debt retirement schedules and routinely audit the data to make sure the processes flow smoothly.

Upon notification from the commission that orders were issued, the development finance authority would be authorized to issue bonds to investors after getting approval from Oklahoma's Council of Bond Oversight, the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The other measure would authorize the development finance authority to set up an Unregulated Utility Consumer Protection Fund where it could issue loans to power providers that aren't normally regulated by the corporation commission for qualified storm-related expenses.

Power providers qualifying for that relief include most of the state's electric cooperatives and independent power providers that get their energy through the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority and the Grand River Dam Authority.

While not normally regulated by the corporation commission, these providers' storm-related costs also would be reviewed by that agency as part of their approval evaluation by the development finance authority.

When loans are approved, it would issue bonds to investors to provide revenue for those loans, provided the proposals are approved by the Council of Bond Oversight and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The finance authority also will be required to make reports annually to Oklahoma's governor and legislative leaders on statuses of the funds, plus make periodic reports when loan requests made by unregulated power providers are approved or rejected and when loans and bonds are issued to any power providers that seek the relief.

Proposals result of six weeks of work

State Sen. Leewright said the proposed laws attempt to address complex situations.

"Doing nothing would financially devastate Oklahoma families, businesses and our overall economy," he said. "If we do nothing, these costs for families, seniors and fixed-income single working families would force them into struggling between deciding whether to pay for necessities or to pay their electric and gas bills."

Wreath said Monday the proposed laws also help consumers because they forbid power providers from making a profit through the recovery of those added expenses.

Ken Wagner, Oklahoma's Secretary of Energy and Environment, praised the efforts of everyone involved in crafting the proposed solutions.

He said the measures provide safeguards to consumers of power providers across the state, regardless of how they are regulated.

 "We are doing this in a way that benefits the consumer, helps credit of utilities, and it also doesn't directly obligate the authority or appropriations of the state's authority or indebtedness," Wagner said. "This is the best possible outcome of a bad situation."

Leewright and Mize also both stressed that Oklahoma taxpayers will not be responsible for retiring the debt if a power provider fails to repay what it owes, and that Oklahoma will not carry the debt on its books.

"What these bills do is to allow those costs to be spread out over a longer period of time to ease the burden on ratepayers," Mize said.

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April 12, 2021

Oklahoma officials discuss proposed legislation to address high utility bills


State officials spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon to address proposed legislation to address the price spike in energy and utility bills due to the historic winter storms in February.

Those who spoke at the event include: Sen. James Leewright, Attorney General Mike Hunter, Secretary of Energy Ken Wagner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission officials and Oklahoma Municipal League Executive Director Mike Fina.

To watch the full news conference please click the link below.

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