Spire Missouri filed a general rate review with the Public Service Commission (PSC) Friday, its first since 2017. President Scott Carter said the company was seeking to continue funding new and innovative programs while maintaining a low cost to customers.
“Our responsibility is to bring safe and reliable natural gas to Missourians,” Carter said in an interview with The Missouri Times. “As we focus on that, we understand that’s got to be cost-competitive. Even with the requests we’re making in this case, our rates will be lower than they were 15 years ago. We’ve made enough advancements in efficiency that customers are paying less for natural gas today than they did 15 years ago, and I don’t know that there’s much in life you can say that about.”
Spire requested an average rate increase of $3.28 per month for residential customers, seeking to recoup $64 million in expenses incurred from implementing new environmental and customer-focused initiatives. Carter said the proposed rates would take effect next fall, during what he hoped would be a more stable economic period for customers.
“There’s never a great time to file a request for new rates, especially in the current environment,” he continued. “We’re looking at it as a long process, not an overnight change. It’s an 11-month process so it won’t occur until the fall of 2021. Hopefully, we’re back to a much more normal life by that point.”
Over the next 11 months, the commission will consider the company’s records and books since its last rate increase three years ago. Carter said Spire had made a plethora of advancements since 2017, including implementing a new online account management system for customers, expanding the company’s services to the western part of the state, and replacing aging and unreliable infrastructure.
Spire has also focused on customer programs, most recently working with the commission to assist residential and small business customers dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. In all, Carter said 97 percent of the company’s requested relief dealt with environmental programs and enhancing customer satisfaction.
The commission will also be considering plans for future programs included in the case.
“These reviews also let us put together a number of other things for consideration,” Carter said. “We’ve been out engaging with our customers and understanding their needs and expectations, and we’ve tried to bring those insights into this case.”
“We’ve spent a lot to try and deal with our aging infrastructure,” he continued. “We’re going for a program that would get old, unreliable materials out of our system and help the environment at the same time. We’re giving customers who are interested in the option to buy renewable natural gas, and they can offset their carbon footprint through the use of that product. We’ve also had rigid rate structures, but now we’re trying to see how we can provide energy on the terms our customers want.”
Carter said customers would have the option to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to renewable natural gas, in addition to a program that would offset carbon emissions by planting trees and implementing other carbon-reducing technologies. Other planned initiatives include giving customers the choice between setting a fixed charge on their bill or paying based on volume, extending low-income assistance funds and programs, and expanding natural gas services to more of the state.
Carter said Spire’s goal was ensuring reliable service and customer satisfaction, even in volatile times.
“This case is about getting our costs trued up and ensuring we can continue down this path of reliability, affordability, and availability,” he said. “We focused on customer needs before the pandemic, and we’ll be focusing on customer needs long after all of this is behind us.”