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Consumer Watchdog: Bills Could Minimize State Regulators' Power

More businesses will be able to submit applications for utility rate adjustments to the Missouri Public Service Commission under two proposals in the Missouri Senate. (Pixabay)
More businesses will be able to submit applications for utility rate adjustments to the Missouri Public Service Commission under two proposals in the Missouri Senate. (Pixabay)
January 26, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – consumer groups warn two bills in the Missouri State Senate that would allow utility providers to temporarily adjust rates could also take that power away from Missouri's Public Service Commission. Comments from David Woodsmall, executive director, Midwest Energy Consumers Group.

Two bills in the Missouri Senate are being touted as ways to manage volatility by allowing utility companies to temporarily adjust their own rates. But they have some consumer groups concerned about the power it would zap from state regulators.

In current statute, only gas companies can apply for temporary rate adjustments in cases of unexpected costs caused by weather conditions or conservation.

David Woodsmall, executive director of the Midwest Energy Consumers Group, spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 642 by Senator Ed Emery R-Barton. Woodsmall says the proposal takes away the Public Service Commission's discretion to approve or deny an adjustment request.

"The way 642 reads, in contrast, is that if the utilities request it, the commission quote, 'shall approve,' end quote the mechanism,” says Woodsmall. “So, it really concerns us that it may take away the commission's ability to protect consumers."

Senate Bill 642, and Senate Bill 705 by Senator Jeanie Riddle R-Audrain broaden the ability to adjust rates for different reasons and also include suppliers of water and sewer services.

The bills would also allow for rate adjustments in cases than just weather or conservation losses. Woodsmall thinks utilities are hoping to include possible economic downturns, loss of customers – or any other reason to protect themselves against lower revenues.

"We believe that some risk on the utility is still appropriate,” he says. “So, rather than broaden it as the utilities want to do, we think it should be limited to weather, conservation or both. "

Supporters of the bills claim that customers who make energy efficiency a priority will see savings over time.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO