This week the public has its first chance to comment on Spire’s unusually fast push for another rate increase — one that could raise their gas bills by more than 10%.
It’s the second rate hike that the St. Louis-based natural gas utility has sought over the past two years, and was launched, in part, because Spire believes it was not granted enough of an increase a year ago. A virtual hearing is set for Thursday.
The company filed its increase request in early 2022, almost immediately after the Missouri Public Service Commission approved an increase in late 2021. Spire was granted a roughly 3% increase for residential customers — around half of what the company initially sought.
This time, the utility is asking for a revenue increase of $151 million. If granted, Spire estimates that bills would rise by 10.44%, or about $8.19 per month, for typical residential customers in the St. Louis region.
Both company officials and state utility watchdogs said it’s rare for the utility to seek another increase so soon, since those requests — generally called rate cases — are normally spaced around three years apart.
But after the outcome of its last case, Spire said current rates do not reflect its “actual cost of service and will not allow for earning a reasonable return on investments made to benefit customers,” according to written testimony from Spire.
The company hopes to change how it is allowed to recover and profit from certain overhead costs, such as what it pays to its employees, said Scott Weitzel, the vice president of regulatory and government affairs for Spire Missouri. “We did not intend to file a rate case so close to another,” he said.
Other key issues and disputes have also cycled into the spotlight during the current rate review. Those include the integrity of Spire’s bookkeeping, how it should be allowed to charge customers for the installation of new meters, and whether the company should face any financial repercussions for its widely criticized conduct amid the long-running legal fracas surrounding its gas pipeline that serves the St. Louis region.
“All parties have recognized this needs to be adjusted, but it’s a small population of total meters,” he said.
Utility regulators with the Missouri Public Service Commission state that 7.5% of the meters Spire replaced from 2001 to 2022 were less than 10 years old; depending on the type, gas meters can last 18 to 30 years. And 9% of the meters replaced in that time didn’t have documentation about their age, based on testimony from commission staff.
The public can weigh in on the company’s requested rate increase by calling into a hearing that will be held by phone at noon on Thursday. The call-in number is 1-855-718-6621, with a meeting number of 2469 900 3915 and a password of 0179.
Comments may also be submitted to the PSC electronically or by mail. Additional information is available at the PSC website at psc.mo.gov.