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Consumer groups plan to appeal PSC decision

  

— A ruling by the Public Service Commission last month that denied a motion that could ultimately make earning information for Ameren Missouri’s most recent quarter public is soon to be challenged.

In early July, the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers, AARP, the Consumers Council of Missouri and the Office of Public Counsel filed a motion with the PSC to waive the Commission’s rule about the confidentiality of Ameren Missouri’s most recent surveillance report.

Ameren is one of several investor-owned utilities to file this type of report with the PSC, but is the only company that the consumer advocacy groups sought to make public. Missouri_Public_Service_Commission_Seal

Diana Vuylsteke, an attorney for the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers and with Bryan Cave, said there are two main reasons she thinks the currently classified information should be provided: 1) it would be beneficial for the legislature as they move forward in future decisions regarding utilities; and 2) it creates a difficult legal situation for anyone who raises concerns against utilities that would want to file a legal complaint.

“Normally there’s no way for the public to be aware of Ameren’s [earnings],” Vuylsteke said.

During the spring, Joan Bray, the interim director of the Consumers Council of Missouri and former Democratic state legislator, said upon a similar request, Ameren released their earnings data to the consumer groups.

That action, however, was a company decision, not one made by the PSC.

Bray said that there is intent to try and file a motion to rehear the issue through the PSC during the coming months. The Consumers Council might not be the only group, as the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund’s board members are also “entertaining” the idea, government relations director Chris Roepe said.

“Transparency is a good thing,” he said. “I don’t know why we would want to be less transparent, and that’s basically what the PSC did by voting to allow Ameren to let their information be hidden.”

The surveillance report generated by utility companies like Ameren are based on certain criteria that PSC staff generates, PSC general counsel Joshua Harden said. Per the Commission’s regulation, that report is deemed highly confidential.

Harden said the motion wasn’t a matter of the consumer groups wanting to see the documents and not being able to, but rather wanting to release those documents to third party sources, like the press.

Consumers do not have access to the earnings information, but consumer groups’ attorneys and certain consultants do, Vuylsteke told The Missouri Times. She said that a statute was implemented to allow utilities have a fair return on the equity they invest, the provision denied adjustment to companies that were overearning. To keep track of that information, she said lawyers were granted the opportunity to see the earnings information. However, regardless of who their clients are, they cannot disclose that information, even to their clients.

In the decision from the PSC, the order states that “ratepayers already have access to Ameren Missouri’s financial information from [the] Securities and Exchange Commission fillings, and Movants (consumer groups) have not specified any additional information contained in the surveillance report that would not be found in those SEC filings.”

Vuylsteke said numbers listed on the SEC report are “impossible” to translate to get what numbers ultimately end up on the PSC reports.

A response letter to the motion from the consumer groups was submitted to the PSC by Ameren’s general counsel Thomas Byrne and attorney James Lowery that listed many of the concerns or commentary expressed by the PSC.

“If the reports were made public, it would have a chilling effect on communication of this stream of information to the Commission,” the order reads, seconding the PSC’s comment about the different groups “already having full and timely access” to the requested information.

Vuylsteke said the consumer groups disagree with Ameren that any harm would come to the company by making their earnings public, because “no trade secrets are involved and the transparency would allow the public to exercise legal rights under Missouri Law.”

The timeline of what’s next is uncertain though at least one of the consumer groups is planning to pursue a request for a rehearing. PSC chairman Robert Kenney said that is not an uncommon procedure.

Check the story at www.themissouritimes.com to see all of the orders and motions involved in the initial hearing.