Missouri Lawmakers Resume Debate on Utility Rate Hikes

On August 23, the Missouri General Assembly carried over debate (House Bill No. 2158) from its last legislative session, which ended in May, on how much state residents and businesses pay for their electricity, water, and gas services.

When members of the House and Senate adjourned for the summer, they left St. Louis-based Ameren and other utilities without the changes that the companies believe will streamline the process they go through when they want to raise rates, according to a report by the local St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The companies say a faster turnaround time by regulators at the Missouri Public Service Commission could help them make needed improvements to an aging utility grid.

They are seeking broad changes in state law that would alter the oversight state regulators have in setting electric rates, the Post-Dispatch stated. In exchange for near-automatic rate increases, Ameren would upgrade old infrastructure and install higher-tech meters to make it easier for residents to manage their energy consumption.

The changes would put Missouri’s rate-making process more on par with Illinois, which approved a similar rate hike proposal in 2014. At that time, the Prairie State approved changes to a law permitting Ameren Illinois and ComEd to raise power rates through a special formula – rather than through the usual long-term procedure before state regulators.

Similarly, last spring, the Republican-led General Assembly considered a plan that would have stripped the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) of much of the oversight it has in setting rates.

However, consumer advocates intervened, saying that the lengthy waiting period for utilities helps shield residents from rate increases.

State Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) even led filibusters to block the measures on the floor of the Senate, the Post-Dispatch reports – saying they would have increased consumer rates. The proposal crashed and failed before lawmakers left town in May.

The General Assembly now is working on a parallel track to the PSC, which is accepting testimony aimed at addressing the concerns of the utilities. The commission is expected to issue a final report before year-end 2016.

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