Our View

We all knew the bill for the local switch to renewable energy would eventually come due; Liberty made no secret of that.

The Joplin-based utility spent years building more than 270 wind turbines in the region that will produce 600 megawatts of power and represent an overall investment of $1.2 billion.

Liberty recently filed a request with the Missouri Public Service Commission that, if approved in full, would raise by $12.76 per month the bill of its typical electric customer in Missouri, defined as someone using around 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month. That’s an increase of nearly 9.7%, and it would recover Liberty’s recent investment in wind as well as solar, smart meters, infrastructure upgrades and more.

Twenty-five years ago, the utility generated more than half of its electricity from locally burned coal and also purchased about 40% of its power — much of that also from coal; with all wind turbines on line, the utility will be more than 50% renewables and about 21% coal.

The company may not get all it asks for, but it will be a significant increase, no doubt. Let’s remember what we are getting for the money: a cleaner, greener source of power, better for our health and better for the environment. There also will also be no cost for the fuel — wind and solar — to pass along. Another plus.

The other part of Liberty’s recent rate request is more concerning.

The company is asking for a new line item on customers’ bills to cover the cost of natural gas during the week of arctic weather in February, when Midwest utilities experienced record price spikes. For its Southwest Missouri customers, that cold snap will cost $7.08 per month for 13 years, which is more than $84 per year, or more than $1,000 total for that same typical customer. Liberty officials told us that market prices for natural gas spiked dramatically over a period of several days.

We need to know what steps regulators are going to require so that this doesn’t happen again while they evaluate the utility’s plan for recovering its costs.

Coming as it does on top of the cost for shifting to renewables, it could add up to a tough increase for some Southwest Missouri residents on fixed incomes.

We have said before that we count on the Missouri Public Service Commission and the Missouri Office of Public Counsel to have our backs, more so now than ever, thoroughly reviewing these rate requests to make sure the utility’s decisions were prudent and reasonable, particularly with regard to the February spike, and that unnecessary or excessive costs are put on shareholders, not ratepayers.

Now is also the time to get involved.

Applications to intervene and participate in the cases must be filed soon with the secretary of the PSC, P.O. Box 360, Jefferson City, MO 65102, or by using the commission’s Electronic Filing and Information System at www.psc.mo.gov. Individual residents wishing to comment on the case may contact the Office of the Public Counsel (Governor Office Building, 200 Madison St., Suite 650, P.O. Box 2230, Jefferson City, MO 65102-2230, call 866-922-2959, or send an email to opcservice@opc.mo.gov. They also may contact the PSC staff at P.O. Box 360, Jefferson City, MO 65102, call them at 800-392-4211, or send an email to pscinfo@psc.mo.gov.

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