Category: Utilities

Missouri panel rejects moratorium on utility shutoffs during pandemic

EFFERSON CITY — The state Public Service Commission has rejected an effort to prevent utility companies from disconnecting residential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission said in a statement Wednesday.

The Consumers Council of Missouri, which advocates on behalf of consumer interests, had requested an emergency order for a moratorium on disconnections through at least March 31.

But the commission determined it didn’t have the authority to grant the council’s request, according to the statement.

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Consumer groups seek Missouri utility shut off moratorium

A coalition of consumer and health care advocates are asking the Missouri Public Service Commission to impose a moratorium on utility cutoffs for the winter to help control the spread of COVID-19. The Consumers Council of Missouri, with support from the Missouri Hospital Association, Empower Missouri and the National Housing Trust, filed the request Tuesday … read more

Consumer groups seek Missouri utility shut off moratorium

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Citing Public Health Concerns in COVID-19 Pandemic, Organizations Call for Moratorium on Utility Disconnections

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO)…Citing the need to “protect the health and safety of the general public during the ever-worsening COVID-19 pandemic in Missouri, Consumers Council of Missouri filed a motion with the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) on December 7 for an emergency order to create a winter utility disconnection moratorium. The motion was supported by a variety of community organizations that have been convened by Empower Missouri since late October as the Utility Disconnection Prevention Working Group.

Jackie Hutchinson, executive director of the Consumers Council of Missouri said, “The COVID-19 pandemic represents a major risk to health and safety during these winter months. The added strain of utility disconnections could increase stress on our health care system, through potential increases in transmission of coronavirus among families and communities.”

A very recent study at the Nicholas Institute at Duke University shows that eviction moratoria reduce the average growth rate of COVID-19 cases by 4.5%, and water and utility shutoff moratoria reduce the average growth rate by 2.6%.  “We have already seen how COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed communities with low incomes, Black Missourians, and other communities of color,” Hutchinson stated. “The moratorium we are requesting could reduce the threat of increased COVID-19 cases caused when families must leave their homes and move in with others due to utility disconnections.”

Jeanette Mott Oxford, director of policy and organizing for Empower Missouri, added, “Our working group explored a variety of options in an attempt to secure a winter moratorium, but, with cold weather upon us, filing for the emergency order appeared to be the only path that met the urgency of the moment. We believe that the laws of our state allow the Public Service Commission to step in with this type of action when the health and safety of the public are at risk as they so clearly are in this pandemic.”

The PSC has posted notice of the motion and shortened the time for responses. Action by the Public Service Commissioners is expected by December 16

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As temperature drops and virus cases climb, groups file for new Missouri utility disconnection moratorium

JEFFERSON CITY — Since testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Mary Boyd has been quarantining at home, unable to take any shifts at the Nature’s Bakery plant where she works near her home in Hazelwood. And that’s left her with a several-hundred dollar electric bill and a looming utility disconnection.

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PSC Sets Local Public Hearing Schedule in Missouri-American Water Company Rate Cases

The Missouri Public Service Commission will hold virtual local public hearings in January to receive customer comment in water and sewer rate cases filed by the Missouri-American Water Company (MAWC). Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these local public hearings will be conducted virtually by WebEx and telephone conference. They will be streamed live on the Commission’s website (psc.mo.gov).

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Ameren settles with ratepayer advocates and announces energy efficiency plan

Consumer advocates rejected the initial plan citing overspending and inadequate benefits

Ameren, Missouri’s largest utility company, has reached an agreement with consumer advocates and environmental groups to launch an energy efficiency plan. The utility proposed a $550 million conservation program over six year, but consumer advocates fought to scale back the program duration and overall spending.

The modified plan calls for $227 million in spending and creates a “check in” at 3 years to ensure that the program is delivering results.

Consumer advocates hail the compromise. Cara Spencer of the Consumers Council of Missouri said “this is a good compromise and provides a net value to both consumers and the environment without placing an undue burden on ratepayers.”

The plan is intended to benefit a wide spectrum of Ameren consumers and includes $20 million in benefits low-income households. The agreement also sets up data sharing that will allow low-income consumer experts to ensure the program is working equitably.

Spencer adds, “This is not only good for the environment, but with this compromise we have protected rate payers and specifically low-income households.”

The Missouri Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

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Will a governor’s scandal upend ratemaking reform?

Each of the past two years, a filibuster by a few state senators in the final days of the legislative session stymied a utility-backed ratemaking bill in Missouri.
This year, the utility bill survived a 22-hour Senate filibuster in February (Energywire, Feb. 12). Now the question is what happens in the final days of a legislative session that has been consumed by the scandal enveloping Gov. Eric Greitens (R).
Greitens goes on trial Monday in St. Louis on felony invasion of privacy charges related to an extramarital affair he had in 2015. The governor faces separate charges of illegally obtaining a donor list from the veterans charity he founded and using it to raise money for his campaign in 2016.
Back at the Capitol, the Legislature will convene 30 minutes after the regular session wraps up May 18 to consider impeachment proceedings against the first-term Republican after 138 House members and 29 senators signed a petition calling for the special session. The unprecedented situation throws into question what the General Assembly will get done in its final week, which is a frenzied time even under usual circumstances.
“Missouri legislators are worried that many of their priorities, such as utility regulation, could fall victim to the usual rush of last-minute business and the unusual rush of impeachment business,” said David Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
St. Louis-based Ameren Missouri, the state’s largest utility with 1.2 million customers, led the lobbying push for ratemaking reforms. The utility has for years complained that “regulatory lag” in Missouri prevented the company and others from earning maximum authorized profits.
Utility officials said yesterday that they’re hopeful the bill will pass the House as written during the next eight days and advance to the governor’s desk. But they provided little insight as to when that might happen.
“It is on the House calendar, and it will go to the floor when the House leadership chooses to have it go to the floor,” Ameren Corp. CEO Warner Baxter said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call.
It’s not the first time the Legislature has been close to passing the utility bill as the deadline approached. Executives noted that it has been the Senate that blocked the legislation in previous years. And if the House passes S.B. 564 without amendments, it will go to the governor’s desk.
“We have never been this close, never been this far through the process,” Ameren Missouri CEO Michael Moehn said.
The bill is supported by all the state’s electric suppliers and local and state chambers of commerce and labor unions. Opposition has come from consumer groups, including industrial energy users.
The legislation’s key provision would authorize a ratemaking change to enable utilities to begin book depreciation and earn a return on investments as soon as they’re placed in service instead of waiting months or years until the conclusion of a rate case.
Ameren said the change won’t just benefit shareholders. Improving profitability will encourage the utility to make an incremental $1 billion in grid investments over the next five years that will improve reliability and create jobs. The bill would freeze utility base rates until 2020 and cap annual increases at 2.85 percent through 2023.
S.B. 564 would also enable utilities to offer lower rates to new large energy users as an economic development incentive and authorize utility regulators to pass through savings retroactive to Jan. 1 tied to the reduction in the corporate income tax rate.
Ameren has said the tax savings would amount to $133 million, or almost 5 percent based on current rates.
Opponents of the bill, from big industrial power customers to residential ratepayer advocates, said there’s nothing in the bill to benefit consumers. They say Missouri’s grid is reliable, utilities are financially healthy and rates are low. In their eyes, the bill is aimed at boosting profits.
Critics also point out that utilities in other states have voluntarily agreed to pass through tax savings to customers. But in Missouri, the tax savings are being used as political leverage.
John Coffman, an attorney for the Consumers Council of Missouri, said amendments have been proposed that would clarify issues related to the bill’s tax refund provisions. One involves whether the Public Service Commission could approve refunds outside a rate case. The other issue involves whether rate caps in the legislation are based on the utility rates before the tax cut, or after.
“Those are two things people are actively trying to fix in the legislation,” he said.
Coffman is among those who doesn’t think Greitens’ legal problems will have any effect on whether the bill passes. If anything, he said, the scandal has taken attention away from what else is happening at the Capitol.
If the bill passes the House, it would need to be sent to the governor’s desk by May 30.

 

https://www.eenews.net/energywire/stories/1060073547/

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Utilities and Opponents are Playing Hardball with Rate Reform

by the Editorial Board for the St. Louis Post-Dispatcth

Ameren Missouri’s cherished rate-reform bill, which has sat dormant in the Missouri House since being passed by the state Senate in mid-February, is meeting 11th-hour challenges — and a threat to force full disclosure of all the money spent to pass it. Missouri consumers’ best hope is for Senate Bill 564 to die before the legislative session ends May 18.

Groups representing both residential and large industrial power users have raised significant doubts about Ameren’s claims that it would benefit consumers by capping rate increases at 2.85 percent per year for residential customers and 2 percent for industrial users.

Opponents argue that changes to the way that the state’s three investor-owned utilities calculate expenses would lead to an effective rate increase of 8 percent to 10 percent — or as much as 20 percent in the view of the Consumers Council of Missouri.

In the Senate, despite political dangers from rate hikes in an election year, a few labor Democrats joined the GOP majority to pass the bill 25-6 in February.

The bill stalled while the House considered its own measure. But as the state’s attention turned to the drama of Gov. Eric Greitens’ upcoming trial in St. Louis, legislative leaders quietly pushed this week for the House to pass the Senate bill without amendments. That would enable it to go back to the Senate for final passage without the threat of a filibuster in the session’s last week.

House leaders indicated Wednesday they were willing to break their promise to allow full and open debate, and to push for a quick vote.

In response, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, drafted a letter to Missouri Public Service Commissioner Daniel Hall to immediately require the three investor-owned utilities to disclose all of their political donations and lobbyist spending since 2014. In February, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, calculated that the utilities had contributed $900,000 to legislators.

Greitens received about $180,000 from Ameren alone, not counting any undisclosed donations to his “dark money” committee. The PSC can order utilities to disclose dark money contributions.

Even with rate caps in place, SB 564 would allow utilities to potentially make tens of millions more each year from a tool called “Plant In-Service Accounting.” Almost every dollar spent on capital investments could be quickly charged to customers without having to gain PSC approval. Ameren argues that it needs the change to modernize its electric grid, but this accounting tool also would allow it to quickly charge consumers for maintaining the old grid.

Ameren also is holding hostage some $133 million a year in tax savings from the federal tax cut bill that should be returned to customers in the form of a 4.9 percent rate cut. Ameren has done so in Illinois but says Missouri regulators tie its hands. This is not a posture that inspires trust.

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Gas Rates Go Down and Low Income Residents Get Bill Assistance.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Cara Spencer, executive director of Consumers Council of Missouri
314-556-7379
 
Gas Rates Go Down and Low Income Residents Get Bill Assistance.
Jefferson City — The Missouri Public Service Commission just approved Spire’s new natural gas rates – effective April 19 – and your monthly gas bill will actually decrease, with the savings varying cross the state.
Last year, Laclede Gas Company (Spire’s Eastern Missouri territory) requested an increase of $3.31 per month for the average residential customer. But after a full audit and litigation of consumer concerns, these customers will actually see a rate reduction of approximately 5%, or an average of $2.00 per month less for an average residential consumer.
MGE (Spire’s Western Missouri territory) requested a $5.09 per month increase for the average residential customer but these customers will see a rate reduction of approximately 1%, or $0.40 less each month for an average consumer.
The measure is not a slam dunk for consumers – the order granted a very high profit level (9.8%) and approved a Weather Adjustment, which exposes consumers to future rate increases whenever we experience a warmer than normal winter, a rate mechanism that consumers will continue to fight. The Infrastructure System Replacement Surcharge (ISRS) will also continue to grow in the future.
Overall, however, gas bills will go down this month, giving consumers a reason to cheer.
 
But this rate reduction almost didn’t happen. Two years ago, Consumers Council of Missouri successfully fought state legislation (HB 1471 – 2016 / SB 849 – 2016) that would have prevented this rate case from happening. At that time, the gas utility claimed that the legislation would spare ratepayers a costly rate increase.
 “Consumer advocates have been saying for years that gas delivery prices should be reduced, “ says John Coffman of Consumers Council “ and in fact, this is the third full rate case audit in a row that has resulted in some rate reduction for the Laclede Gas area.”
 
Another positive that came out of this most recent rate case was the outline of an improved low-income program, that should end up providing over a million dollars of relief, with rewards for participants who keep current on their bill payments. A settlement provides 120 days for the utility, consumer groups, and community action agencies to work out the details of this new program.

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