By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Though small in number, an outspoken group of Empire District Electric Co. customers voiced opposition to a proposed rate increase during a public hearing Thursday conducted by the Missouri Public Service Commission.
The hearing was at noon in Corley Auditorium in Webster Hall at Missouri Southern State University. A second hearing was scheduled for 6 p.m. in the same location. Another hearing is set for noon today at Reeds Spring City Hall.
One of the most outspoken was Empire customer Tamara Beinlich.
“From what we make per capita compared to the rest of the country, you people are bending us over,” Beinlich said.
She said that while Joplin’s median income is $38,000, Bradley Beecher, Empire’s president and CEO, had total compensation last year of $683,706, including stock options. She cited research on the Reuters website. Also citing online sources, she said Empire has made healthy profits over the past two years.
“From what I see here, you guys are doing really well,” Beinlich said.
In her formal statement, she said she hopes the PSC considers the area’s demographics in making its decision.
Gilbert Millner, a longtime Empire customer, prefaced his remarks by saying that Empire is a wonderful company with superb customer service. He also later referred to “our beloved home-owned utility.” Yet he said he is opposed to another rate increase.
“You’re nickel-and-diming us poor folks to death,” he said.
Customer Charles Routledge referred to the utility’s costs associated with the 2011 tornado in his statement.
“It seems like we customers are being asked to be the insurance company because of this tremendous loss,” he said.
Empire officials on hand for the hearing said the utility is unable to purchase insurance for power lines and utility poles, though substations were insured.
Empire is seeking new revenue of $30.7 million in the rate case. If the request is approved in full, that would result in a 5.3 percent increase to customers. For a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month of power, the monthly bill would increase by about $6.60 to nearly $123.