Customers unhappy with natural gas rate hike proposal at KC public meeting
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Your natural gas bill could go up in a few months if a Spire Gas rate hike request is approved.
The company is asking Missouri regulators for a rate increase of nearly 13% for Western Missouri.
Tuesday night, the Missouri Public Service Commission heard from customers during a hearing at the Gregg/Klice Community Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
The final decision will come from the five commissioners appointed by the governor, likely early next year, but commission staff are recommending less than half of what Spire is asking for.
The remarks from the crowd were primarily about the strain on the household budget.
“It’s bad enough, with all that has happened the last two pandemic years, but now Spire wants to add insult to injury with this increase,” said Damian Muller.
“With property taxes and drug costs and groceries and and utilities going up, it really becomes hard for them to make some decisions,” said Robert Inman.
Inman is retired and lives in an Independence neighborhood with a high elderly population and homes built in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The utility’s staff said if its request is approved, it would amount to a 12.65% rate increase. For the typical residential customer on the western side of the state, Spire estimates an extra $10.95 per month. That varies based on energy use.
Operation Breakthrough CEO Mary Esselman remarked that this places a huge burden on the low-income families her organization serves. They’re not typical customers based on that calculation. They spend more and it’s a larger percentage of their income.
“Many of our families, their average gas bill in the winter -- because the homes that they rent are not necessarily energy efficient -- is around $350 per month,” Esselman said. “So, if you look at a 12.65% increase, that would generate almost a $44 increase per month.”
“Such measures are truly disgusting, and goes to show us that this monopoly does not value us and will put profit over people time and time again,” opined Nate Morton, who lives in Independence.
The rate increase request does not include the cost of gas itself. That typically accounts for half of a gas bill, according to the Public Service Commission. Spire charges only what it’s charged for that.
The request is specifically for what a commission handout refers to as “operating and maintenance expenses” and “return on investment in plant.”
Spire’s staff explained the $152 million the company is seeking is for a revenue deficiency.
“In rate cases, we don’t ask for money to be spent in the future. Everything we’re asking for is for plant, pipes, capital in the past. We’re asking for recovery of that,” explained Scott Weitzel, Spire’s VP of Regulatory and Governmental Affairs. “It’s in service. You’re using it in your homes right now.”
Part of the commissioners’ decision will involve whether the company’s expenditures are reasonable and prudent.
On the request for $151.9 million in revenue, commission staff are recommending $70.7 million instead.
Area residents like Ryan Dickey said zero is more like it.
“If we’re looking for ways to shave this revenue down, I think executive compensation is always something we can take money out of,” said Dickey.
Any rate increase would likely come in February.
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