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Lawmakers call for local utility relief fund in wake of cold snap

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bipartisan group of legislators is calling on Gov. Mike Parson to establish an emergency relief fund for local utilities in the wake of February’s cold snap. 

Rep. Jeff Porter, who penned a letter to the governor that garnered the signatures of most of the Missouri House and seven senators, said the legislature hoped to secure help for constituents as they reckoned with the fallout of the extreme weather event and the resulting rise in natural gas and electricity prices. The letter requested a $50 million loan fund allowing citizen-led utilities impacted by the storm to borrow for up to five years without interest. 

According to Porter, surrounding states have already begun implementing similar programs. 

“The cold snap in February was bad for a lot of people,” Porter said. “There was a lot of price gouging or market manipulation going on at a very critical time, taking advantage of a situation and a captive audience. … It was time for me to step up to the plate, and I got 113 signatures in the House hoping we could do something for our constituents.”

Porter joined Sens. Mike Moon and Jason Bean, Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) President John Twitty, and Macon Municipal Utilities General Manager Stephanie Wilson on a virtual conference Friday discussing the request and the impact of the storms on local utilities. 

Wilson said her company saw unprecedented financial impacts from the weather event: Its annual budget of $1.8 million was depleted over a four-day period as prices rose astronomically, requiring the cost to be passed on to customers and stalling planned investments into infrastructure. 

Moon addressed concerns over price gouging in his district and said he hoped to see Attorney General Eric Schmitt launch an investigation into the practice.

“It is unfortunate that we saw the demand go up to the point where price gouging appears to be the case,” Moon said.

A spokeswoman for Parson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Winter storms struck the midwest in February, impacting everything from vaccine distribution to the legislature and forcing companies to initiate rolling blackouts. Investor-owned utilities, including Spire Missouri, are evaluating ways to mitigate the impact on customer billing, spreading the cost over the next few years rather than overloading consumers all at once.