EDITORIAL: Once fed, the wolves will come back

Jan. 25—Joplin natural gas customers have just been hit with a third rate increase in a little over a year, begging the question: Whose is looking out for us?

The latest increase was allowed recently by the Missouri Public Service Commission for natural gas customers of Spire on the western side of the state, including Joplin.

The cost of gas will go from 92 cents per ccf to $1.07 per ccf. (A ccf is a hundred cubic feet of natural gas and a unit to measure usage.)

In a statement, Spire officials said that increase will be about $9.54 per month, or 9.38%, for that typical customer.

"This increase is due to dramatically higher natural gas costs during Winter Storm Uri in February of 2021. Gas costs from that nine-day period were what Spire typically spends on gas in a year. While there was a previous gas cost increase due to Uri, a large sum of those gas costs was deferred over time to lessen impacts on customer bills. This increase is to recover those costs," the utility said in a statement.

This follows an increase in gas costs passed along in November, from 79 cents to 92 cents per ccf — an increase for the average residential customer of $8.14, or 9.16% per month.

A previous rate increase for Spire West customers, a little more than a year earlier, saw the cost of gas double, going from 40 cents per hundred cubic feet of natural gas used to 79 cents. That change meant an increase of about $24.36 per month, or 41.5%, for the typical natural gas residential customer in Joplin.

So what you're paying for natural gas has nearly tripled in about 14 months, from 40 cents to $1.07 per ccf.

In all, those three increases over that period raised the cost of gas for the typical customer by more than $42 per month, or more than $500 per year.

That doesn't include the hundreds of dollars you'll also be paying Liberty for its natural gas costs from that winter storm.

And this is for just a few days of heating back in February 2021 during a cold snap that utilities and their regulators like to tell us was "anomalous," but to our mind the real anomaly was not the weather but the outrageous price hikes in wholesale natural gas that we will still be paying for years for now.

Who is looking out for us? It's question for state regulators, of course, but more than that: It is a question for state and federal lawmakers who have done little to prevent it from happening again.

Remember, despite the state regulatory network and its machinations in the matter, natural gas at the wholesale level is unregulated, and the Missouri Public Service Commission, despite the pretense of prudency reviews, essentially allows that cost to simply be passed along to consumers.

In other words, there is no limit now — no cap — on the cost of gas that state regulators will allow to be passed through by utilities such as Spire from wholesalers to consumers.

We have said before this has created a dangerous precedent.

The wolves, having found out they will be allowed to feed all they want, will be back. And soon. Be assured of that.