With successful nest boxes for Missouri's osprey, utility turns to peregrine falcon population

A nesting box for peregrine falcons has been placed at the Liberty Utilities-Empire District State Line Road power plant, as seen on Wednesday afternoon. Globe | Roger Nomer

Customers of Liberty Utilities-Empire could see their monthly bills rise by 5.9 percent if a rate request is approved in full by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

The company filed for the request Aug. 14 asking to increase annual electric revenues by $26.5 million. Rate cases typically take up to 11 months, and if approved the new rates are scheduled into effect in the summer of 2020.

If approved, a customer using a thousand kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would see their bill rise by $7.85, according to a statement from Liberty; customers who are enrolled in the Low Income Pilot Program, which provides a credit for qualifying customers, will see an increase of $1.85 per month. As part of the filing, Liberty has requested a continuation of the pilot program as well as its energy efficiency programs.

The rate request follows $338 million in investment the company said it has made since April 2016 that includes the replacement of more than 6,400 poles and the installation of more than 11,000 sectionalizing devices, which automatically isolate an outage to as few customers as possible, the company said in a statement.

Jillian Curtis, media coordinator for the utility, said the rate case also includes investment made in generating plants as well.

"Those are just things we do to keep them up and running efficiently," she said.

The rate increase is the first one the utility has requested in four years and the first since Liberty completed its acquisition of Joplin-based Empire District Electric Co. in 2017.

“These investments are a necessary part of delivering the safe and reliable power that our Missouri electric customers expect," said David Swain, president of Liberty Utilities-Central Region, in a statement. "As a utility, the way we deliver power is changing at a rapid pace. It’s important for us to innovate to ensure we’re meeting our customers’ needs now and in the future.” 

Liberty also said the filing will be used to return to rate base $11 million in tax savings it has realized as part of President Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.

As part of the filing, Liberty-Empire also said it has requested a weather normalization rider for the bills of Missouri electric customers. When the weather is milder than normal, a charge will be applied to customer bills, and when the weather is more extreme than normal, a credit will be applied.

Curtis also emphasized that this proposed rate increase is not tied to its wind generation plan, which was approved in June. 

About 280 turbines will be built, split among two spots in Southwest Missouri and a third location in Southeast Kansas. The two sites in Missouri, which will generate 150 megawatts each, are being called King’s Point and North Fork Ridge, and turbines will go up in parts of Jasper, Barton, Lawrence and Dade counties. The Southeast Kansas site is in Neosho County.

The company has said the wind project represents an investment of more than $1 billion.

The Missouri Public Service Commission has set a date of Sept. 16 for parties wishing to intervene and participate in the rate case.

Applications to intervene can be filed with the Secretary of the Missouri Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 360, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0360, or by using the Commission’s Electronic Filing and Information System at www.psc.mo.gov. As part of a rate case, the PSC holds local public hearings as well as a hearing in Jefferson City.

Liberty-Empire serves more than 155,000 electric customers in Southwest Missouri, including Joplin. 

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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