From staff reports
Area residents will get their chance this week to weigh in on a rate increase proposed by Empire District Electric Co.
The Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, has scheduled local hearings for Thursday and Friday to gather testimony from area residents.
Empire in July filed a rate case with the PSC seeking to increase annual revenues from its electricity customers in Missouri by about $30.7 million. When the rate proposal is combined with a fuel charge decrease of about $8.6 million that also is part of the request, the net impact for customers would be an increase of about 5.3 percent per month, according to Emily Stanley, an Empire spokeswoman.
If the proposal is approved as applied for, a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would see a net increase in rates of about $6.60 per month, Stanley said.
The first hearing will begin with a question-and-answer session at noon Thursday in Corley Auditorium in Webster Hall at Missouri Southern State University.
A second Joplin hearing will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday in Corley Auditorium.
The PSC also scheduled a hearing for noon Friday in the City Council chambers in Reeds Spring. City offices are at 22601 Main St.
PSC hearings on the rate request are set to begin Feb. 18 in Jefferson City. They will continue through March 1.
When it filed for the rate increase, Empire asked that it be allowed to immediately recover $6.2 million in costs stemming from the 2011 tornado, arguing that it had experienced $27.6 million in costs because of damage, and also that it lost many customers because of homes and businesses that were destroyed. Although that request was denied, those costs remains part of the case still being reviewed, Stanley said.
In denying the request for an interim rate increase, the PSC ruled: “The overwhelming and undisputed evidence presented at the hearing shows that Empire is not now experiencing a financial emergency, or near emergency, and is able to provide safe and adequate service to its customers, regardless of whether or not it receives an interim rate increase.”
Empire also cited costs associated with the building of new transmission lines within the Southwest Power Pool that will allow more energy from wind farms to flow to cities where the power is needed. As a member of the pool, Empire has been allocated a portion of the costs for these new lines.
Empire also argues that it is facing costs because:
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted new standards for mercury emissions.
• It installed a new computer system for accounting, customer service and operational purposes.
• It implemented new vegetation management efforts as a result of rules established by the PSC. Empire is required to inspect and clear vegetation every four years in urban areas and every six years in rural areas. Because of the new rules, outages resulting from vegetation in primary distribution lines have decreased by more than 63 percent since 2006, officials said.
Any permanent rate increase approved by the PSC in the current case would not be expected to be effective until June.
EMPIRE DISTRICT’S last rate increase was announced in May 2011. The Public Service Commission granted an annual revenue increase of $18.7 million, or 4 percent, for the utility. For a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, the monthly increase was about $3.52. Those rates went into effect in June 2011.