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Sen. Tina Smith arrives in the US Capitol on the first day of Trump's second impeachment on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) is calling for federal investigations into possible price gouging of natural gas in areas afflicted by the severe winter storms that have caused power outages in Texas and other large swaths of the country.

Why it matters: In a letter to regulators sent Saturday, Smith said spot prices for natural gas increased by over 100 times their typical levels, raising utility costs for people in the affected areas.

  • Smith said the price hikes threaten the “financial stability of some utilities that do not have sufficient cash reserves to cover their short-term costs in this extraordinary event.”
  • “A public report should detail what occurred, make recommendations to prevent such problems in the future and determine if laws have been broken,″ Smith said.

Zoom in: The extreme weather has raised demand for electricity an unprecedented amount while utilities in states like Texas were shut off because of the snow.

  • Winfield, Kansas will likely pay $10 million for natural gas for the past week alone, according to an interview with City Manager Taggart Wall on KWCH-TV. He added that residential customers could expect to pay around $2,500 this month.
  • Officials in Morton, Illinois reported gas prices at nearly $225 dollars per unit this week, although they normally sell for about $3.
  • Natural gas prices in Oklahoma reached a record high at $600 per million British thermal units.

The other side: American Gas Association spokesperson Jake Rubin told AP utilities use long-term contracts to guarantee enough supply at an affordable rate.

  • “Spot prices climbed in some regions due to spikes in demand, families and businesses that use natural gas were protected from higher prices by the careful planning of their utilities.″

What's new: Texas' utility regulator announced Saturday that it has opened an investigation "into the factors that combined with the devastating winter weather to disrupt the flow of power to millions of Texas homes."

Go deeper: Biden declares major disaster in Texas after winter storms

Go deeper

Texas officials launch inquiry into winter storm energy bills spike

A neighborhood in Waco, Texas, amid power outages over the state on Feb. 17. Photo by Matthew Busch /AFP via Getty Images

Officials in Texas announced Saturday investigations into the causes of the state's widespread power outages and an energy bills spike following the state's winter storms.

Why it matters: Millions of Texans lost power and water during last week's storms. In the aftermath, wholesale power prices rose from roughly $50 per megawatt hour to $9,000, WFAA reports — noting some Texans faced bills of up to $17,000 so far this month.

Feb 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Houston mayor: Blaming renewables for Texas blackouts "disingenuous"

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Photo: Thomas Shea/AFP vis Getty Images

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday that blaming this week's mass power outages on renewable energy is "disingenuous."

Driving the news: Several Republicans, as well as conservative commentators have falsely blamed wind and solar energy for the blackouts, which left millions of people across Texas in the dark amid frigid temperatures and snow and ice storms.

Feb 20, 2021 - Science

Biden declares major disaster in Texas after winter storms

Long-haul trucks waiting in traffic caused by historic cold weather in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 15. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

President Biden declared a major disaster in Texas after severe winter storms struck the state, causing millions of residents to lose power and water.

Why it matters: The declaration clears the way for more federal funds to be spent on relief efforts across the state.