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DULUTH – Thanks to ample supplies of natural gas locked in at a favorable rate, Duluth residents should not expect the increase in their gas bills that other Minnesota utilities are anticipating.

ComfortSystems, the city's natural gas provider, was protected from the recent spike in prices caused by winter storms in Texas, Duluth officials said Wednesday. If bills are higher than expected for February, it will more likely be due to the long stretch of subzero temps earlier this month.

Other city-owned gas providers, including those on the Iron Range, may not be so lucky.

"Most of the gas utilities in Minnesota — both municipal and investor-owned — were significantly impacted by the price spike," said Jack Kegel, chief executive of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, which includes 33 gas utilities that have a combined 80,000 customers. "Virtually everyone I have spoken with is planning to pass the costs through over time. Nobody is going to run all the costs through next month's bill."

That's similar to what investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy said they would do after telling regulators that customers could see $200 to $400 in increased charges due to a steep increase in the market price of natural gas earlier this month.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce said prices increased 60-fold on Feb. 15 at the Ventura hub in Iowa, the primary delivery and pricing point of gas entering Minnesota.

Customers of Xcel and other investor-owned utilities won't see those charges until September, though municipal customers could see it sooner, Kegel said. Municipal customers could see similar "but not greater" increases in their bills, he added.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003