By Scott Faughn
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – At the request of a member of the General Assembly, the Public Service Commission will weigh-in on legislation that would allow utility companies to impose an infrastructure surcharge on customers.
The commission intends to review the identification of electric infrastructure problems, costs and rate impact of the implementation of Senate Bill 207, known as the “ISRS” legislation. The review will include an evaluation of the electric utilities’ financial need for legislation, due process and appropriate procedure with respect to the new rate mechanisms proposed by SB207, as well as any other information the PSC finds relevant to the bill.
Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, Chairman of the House Utilities Committee, asked the PSC for assistance on the bill while it was in his committee which ultimately passed it by a wide margin.
“I reached out to the PSC not for advice on the bill, but for some assistance and definition for ideas I felt would improve the bill in committee,” Funderburk said. “They were helpful in providing assistance, and we changed some provisions to better suit the bill. For instance, the utilities close their books on a project 45 days before they file for a rate adjustment, so we changed the time the PSC could begin an early review to 45 days prior to the filing.”
Funderburk added that the PSC previously told him they need 120 days to do a “proper” review. Currently in the bill, they now have 135 days.
“This bill is no different than any other piece of legislation,” Scissors added. “It has been thoroughly vetted by the sponsors and the Senate and House committee chairs. At the hearings, expert witness testified for hours and multiple questions — including many of Sen. Eric Schmitt’s — were asked and answered by committee members.
Additionally, the PSC is expected to weigh-in on a comparison of the provisions of SB207 and House Bill 398 — as there are variances — including the provision of House Committee Substitute for HB398 that allows for a 45-day pre-filing requirement to allow additional time for review and any other differences the PSC deems relevant. That could also include an evaluation of the cost-tracking mechanism contained in the proposed legislation that is not directly related to infrastructure investments.
Interested utilities, organizations, individuals and other stakeholders may file written comments no later than April 1, and a comment hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., April 8. The Commission intends to issue its report to the legislature no later than Wednesday, April 17.
“The PSC has worked closely with the bill sponsors and the committee chairs providing great detail and analyses regarding this legislation,” Irl Scissors, executive director of Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future — a group supporting the proposal — said.
He added that he thinks HB398 now contains even stronger protection for the Missouri consumer.
“In most states, utilities can forecast expected future costs,” Scissors added. “ISRS will force utilities to account for all tracked business expenses and all will be reviewed by the full authority of the PSC. There is a 2-percent cap on these tracked costs and no recovery will be automatic. ISRS is tough, transparent legislation that will bring immediate economic relief and new jobs for our State. MBEF’s 5,000 members and all of Missouri electric consumers will stay protected.”
This isn’t the first time that the PSC has been asked to weigh-in on this legislation.
Scissors also said he feels confident that House and Senate leadership understand the importance and need for this legislation.
“I fully expect both the House and Senate to debate and vote on their respective bills during this session,” he continued. “The health, safety, reliability and affordability of Missouri’s electric grid is at stake for Missouri electric consumers.”
Chris Roepe, spokesman for the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund — a group leading the opposition to the legislation, said the PSC review would be a good time for legislators to take a second look at the legislation.
“It would be foolish not to allow legislators access to this important information from the Public Service Commission prior to voting on giving a blank check to monopoly utility companies that will costs Missourians hundreds of million in higher electric bills,” Roepe said. “Proponents of this new electric surcharge and cost overrun tracker thought it was a good idea on February 20 to wait and see the Public Service Commission’s analysis of the bill before debating the bill on the floor and now legislators are finally going to get a real analysis of the entire legislation, not just the sections of the bill the utilities want analyzed.”
In the PSC’s letter to Representative Funderburk there was a hint of their feelings on the legislation when they commented, “It is important to note that the underlying bill is a fundamental departure from traditional rate of return legislation.”
Some are suggesting the Senate will take up the ISRS bill Tuesday, disregarding the PSC inquiry, but in the House, Funderburk said he thinks their chamber would benefit by hearing from the PSC.
“The bill is still in my desk, but I do think it is a good idea to wait and see what the PSC’s findings to Senator Schmitt’s are, and I would actually prefer to wait for the Senate to take action on the bill before we take it up on the House floor,” he said.
“I agree with Rep. Funderburk that we should wait until the PSC issues their findings,” Rep. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, Majority Caucus Chair Representative, said. “There are factories all across the state that this legislation will have a major impact on, and Missourians’ jobs are at stake.”
Assistant Majority Floor Leader Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit who voted against the bill in the utilities committee, said he thinks a lot can be said about Funderburk’s willingness to do all he can to make this the best bill possible, and that he would want all the input possible before moving forward.
While Democratic Representative Keith English, D-Florissant, who voted in favor of the measure also praised the chairman’s stance. “I have the utmost respect for Chairman Funderburk and feel too that it is important to understand the position of the PSC on this issue before moving forward. This committee is committed to making sure that we have a good bill and that our constituents are well represented.”
The PSC’s announcement comes on the heels of several developments regarding Missouri utility rates. MBEC announced plans to expand their advertising campaign in support of the legislation. On Saturday the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Ameren is requesting a $51 million rate increase after they reported last week that Ameren had made higher than the PSC suggested profits.