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Missouri Natural Gas Bills On The Way Up? Half-Billion in Surcharges Waiting on Gov. Nixon’s Desk

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed five bills last week, but one that remains on his desk is of concern to the Consumer Council of Missouri and AARP Missouri. It’s a natural gas surcharge bill that allows utilities to impose a surcharge for pipeline upgrades that the groups estimate will raise rates by up to $500 million.

Craig Eichelman, AARP state director, said he sees problems with the bill. Utilities, which now are required to justify such charges every three years, will be able to wait five years before making their case to the Public Service Commission.

“When you start adding anything you want and call it a ‘surcharge,’ and you don’t get to ask me about it for five years – we’ve got a problem,” Eichelman said.

Consumer groups also don’t like a provision in the bill called “the bad debt tracker,” which allows a utility to charge consumers for 90 percent of its bad debts. Gas companies say they need the money to make federally-mandated upgrades.

Missourians enjoy utility rates lower than the national average, and Eichelman said that is partially because the regulatory process works.

“I think the current process is solid; it’s fair to everybody involved, and it should not be distorted,” he said.

If Senate Bill 240 goes into effect as scheduled, consumer groups said customers of Laclede Gas and Missouri Gas Energy will see their bills go up very soon.