Local businesses can reduce natural gas bills

Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance partners with WoodRiver Energy on new program

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Jill Nelson, Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance community development director, at left, along with Office Manager Kate Stucky look over some of the savings on the Growth Alliance’s utility bills.

WoodRiver Energy LLC has partnered with the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance to give local businesses the opportunity to save money on their natural gas bills.

“The WoodRiver Member Benefit Program that we have with the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance is a guaranteed member savings on a monthly basis,” said Craig Gertsch, who represents WoodRiver in this part of the Hawkeye State. “We at WoodRiver are a supplier or marketer of natural gas. All of our natural gas is produced by Shell Energy North America (US) LLC. Here in Iowa the three major utilities that we work with are MidAmerican Energy, Alliant Energy and Black Hills Energy.”

According to Jill Nelson, community development director at the Growth Alliance, this initiative began this year and is the first member benefit of its type the Growth Alliance has offered.

“It is only available to Growth Alliance members. It allows them the opportunity to save 5 percent on their natural gas,” she said. “This is something new for us. After doing quite a bit of research, we decided that it would be a win-win for us and our members and WoodRiver at the same time.

WoodRiver Energy is based in Denver, Colorado. It supplies natural gas in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. It entered the Webster County marketplace about one year ago, according to Gertsch.

The company offers a way for commercial enterprises to have the delivery of natural gas to them handled in a way that can lead to monthly savings. For those businesses it is a management adjunct to their relationship with the local utility, not a replacement for that company.

“We are in no competition to the utilities,” Gertsch said. “No competition at all. We participate in utility-based programs. So MidAmerican, for example, has their gas transportation division. We participate within that gas transportation division.”

Multifaceted delivery system

Most people don’t think much about the system that brings natural gas from the production sites to their home or business. Gertsch explained how the process works.

“The local utility owns the infrastructure,” he said. “In Fort Dodge, MidAmerican owns all of the infrastructure within Fort Dodge. Outside of Fort Dodge, Northern Natural Gas is actually the company that owns the pipeline that is bringing natural gas from production to the city.”

MidAmerican and other utilities sell natural gas to all categories of customers. WoodRiver, however, specializes in marketing gas to a niche market.

“We strictly work with commercial customers here in Iowa,” Gertsch said, noting that large companies have benefited from similar programs for years, but smaller businesses have not. “We believe those customers should have just the same choices as how they buy their natural gas as a John Deere or a Monsanto.”

The gas usage patterns for commercial clients differ significantly from those of the residential customers. Gertsch said that allows WoodRiver to manage the delivery of natural gas to them in ways that bring about cost savings.

“Let’s just say as an example that it costs the utility $1 to buy gas at the market and it costs them another $1 to move that gas through Northern Natural Gas. Theoretically, they then sell that gas for $2. The honest truth is it doesn’t cost every single customer $2, but they sell on a weighted average. We sell specific to each individual customer.”

That gives WoodRiver Energy the ability to analyze an array of cost data and identify achievable efficiencies related to commercial users.

“It is based on efficiencies in how we are moving the gas from the wholesale level to the local delivery point,” Gertsch said. “Based upon the types of customers that we work with and the way that we are moving gas from production to the local utility, we are more efficient. … We are managing the movement of the gas from production to the city of Fort Dodge. We are able to manage it differently based on how our customers are using gas.”

Not having to factor in the residential customers is the key factor that makes it possible for WoodRiver Energy to develop more favorable pricing for businesses, according to Gertsch.

“By eliminating the residential customers, we are eliminating those residential inefficiencies,” he said.

Making a change

In developing a program for commercial clients, WoodRiver Energy works closely with the various utilities.

“The way our relationship with the utility works, we have the ability to pull their data with the client’s OK,” Gertsch said. “We analyze their data from previous usage. We look at the market and we look at futures options. We put together two or three options.”

If a prospective client likes what WoodRiver has proposed, becoming one of its clients is quite straightforward.

“We take care of the enrollment for them,” Gertsch said. “The nice thing about our program is there is no cost to come over to WoodRiver Energy. There is no equipment change at the facility. At the end of the day they are still a MidAmerican, Black Hills or Alliant customer. That does not change. The bill does, however, come from WoodRiver.”

Gertsch said the program his company is offering in conjunction with the Growth Alliance is an economically sound arrangement for his company and potential local customers.

“We put this guaranteed savings program together because it is something that is achievable,” he said. “It is something that is obtainable month after months after month. It is going to provide long-term value to the customer. We at WoodRiver are also going to be able to make money.”

Gertsch, who has been in the natural gas world since 2013, said he especially enjoys his role with WoodRiver Energy because he likes being able to help clients achieve their goals.

“The most enjoyment that I get is sitting down and actually talking to the customer and getting to know their needs and wants and actually being able to fulfill that,” he said.