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Parson requests relief fund for local utilities reeling from cold snap 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson is requesting an emergency relief fund for local utility companies impacted by the cold snap, answering the call of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Parson made a supplemental budget request this week for a $50 million loan fund, known as the Municipal Utility Emergency Loan Program, to allow citizen-led utilities to borrow for up to five years without interest to address the impact of February’s winter storm. A bipartisan majority in the House signed a letter from Rep. Jeff Porter last week requesting the fund with 16 senators also backing the effort. 

“On behalf of hometown utilities in Missouri, we’re appreciative of the governor’s swift action to request these funds for community utilities across the state,” John Twitty, president and CEO of the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, said in a statement. “It’s great to see the governor act so quickly along with the stated support of legislators.”

Stephanie Wilson, general manager of Macon Municipal Utilities, joined lawmakers at a virtual press conference last week to discuss the letter and the impact of the cold snap. 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. 

“No risk scenario would have prepared any entity for the electricity and natural gas market prices realized during the weather event,” Wilson said. “The governor’s action provides Macon and other hometown utilities an additional tool to help ease the economic impact on their customers.”

“I want to thank the governor for responding to this crisis,” said Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, who represents the Macon area. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that this money is passed in the final budget. It is essential for our small towns, like Macon, that have been impacted.”

Porter and other lawmakers addressed the letter last week, citing concerns over price gouging and the economic impact the storm would have on communities across the state.

“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 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.

This story has been updated to include O’Laughlin’s statement.