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PSC denies request to bar shut-offs statewide

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Public Service Commission (PSC) denied a request from the Consumers Council of Missouri (CCM) to enact a moratorium on involuntary disconnections for all utility companies under its jurisdiction.

The organization issued its request last week, urging the commission to pause disconnections through the end of March in deference to the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter. The motion also asked the commission to waive late fees for customers through the same period.

“This is a difficult issue,” PSC Chair Ryan Silvey said during Wednesday’s commission meeting. “People who have never faced economic hardships like this are facing them now. … I just don’t believe the commission has the statutory authority to do what they’re asking.”

Silvey and the other commissioners said it was beyond their power to order utility companies to provide services at such a substantial loss. Silvey noted that many of the state’s utility companies, including Evergy, are enacting their own policies on disconnections and late fees, as well as promoting programs to assist struggling customers through both the pandemic and the winter months.

“The Commission has carefully reviewed Consumer Council’s motion and shares its concern for the well-being of utility customers and all Missouri citizens during the pandemic,” the PSC later said in a statement. “However, the Commission can only take the actions it is has been authorized by the state legislature to take. Consumers Council provides no legal authority for the requested Commission action, other than its interpretation of Section 386.310 RSMo. The Commission disagrees with Consumers Council’s interpretation and determines that it does not have authority to grant the motion.”

Other matters

The commission also agreed to open an investigation into an order from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)Wednesday. The FCC recently approved the use of 988 as an abbreviated dialing code for the national suicide prevention and mental health hotline, which will cause phone customers with the 988 prefix to switch to 10-digit local dialing rather than the customary seven digits before the shorthand becomes official in July 2022. The commission requested transitional plans from Missouri companies to start its investigation.

NextEra Energy Transmissions requested a protective order for information disclosed to its board of directors on its planned acquisition by GridLiance GP. The data was requested by Staff as part of its evaluation of the acquisition, but the companies stated the information contained trade secrets and other sensitive data. The commission voted to approve the protective order. 

Ameren Missouri submitted tariff sheets adjusting its Renewable Energy Standard Rate Adjustment Mechanism (RESRAM) in September. Commission Staff reviewed the proposed rate change, concluding it would reduce the average customer’s bill by about 27 cents while still allowing Ameren to recoup losses incurred during the 2020 fiscal year. 

The PSC ordered further testimony in a complaint case against Invenergy, the parent company of the Grain Belt Express project. The plaintiff, a landowner the project is seeking an easement from, asked the commission to investigate plans published by Invenergy claiming it would build more than the commission previously approved. The commission is seeking additional information from both parties before moving forward with the case. Another complaint case against the project was opened by the PSC last week.

Additionally, the commission opened a working case to evaluate reporting requirements for utility companies and rural electric cooperatives at Staff’s request. The commission also approved a rule change allowing manufactured home installers to receive their licenses through virtual rather than in-person instruction.

The next PSC agenda meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 23, though commissioners said it may be delayed due to the holiday. Though the Governor’s Office Building is reopening on Dec. 21, the PSC has no plans to return to in-person agenda meetings for the foreseeable future.