Natural gas rates rising for Southwest Missouri customers

Nov. 23—Natural gas rates for residential and business customers in Southwest Missouri are going up, and the higher costs will be reflected in their bills this winter.

This week, the Missouri Public Service Commission announced that the half-million Spire West customers in western Missouri who had been paying 79 cents per ccf of natural gas will see that rise to 92 cents per ccf.

A ccf is a hundred cubic feet of natural gas and a unit to measure usage, and how much more each customer will pay will depend on their usage through the winter.

The new rates take effect Nov. 29.

Spire West customers are those on the western side of the state, including customers in Barry, Barton, Jasper, Lawrence, McDonald and Vernon counties.

"This breaks down for the average residential customer to an average monthly bill increase of $8.14, or 9.16%," said Jason Merrill, spokesman for Spire.

According to the PSC, the increase is due to increases in the wholesale cost of natural gas as well as a change in the company's Actual Cost Adjustment factor, which tracks any over-collection or under-collection of actual natural gas costs over a 12-month period. The net over- or under-collected balances are subsequently either refunded or collected the next year.

The cost of natural gas from wholesale suppliers makes up about 50% to 55% of a customer's total monthly natural gas bill, Merrill said. In a statement, the PSC said the wholesale cost of natural gas is not regulated by the state, and that cost is "primarily driven by supply, demand and the weather." The PSC does conduct a review to make sure that regulated natural gas companies such as Spire make prudent decisions in securing natural gas supplies for their customers.

This follows an announcement in November 2021 when Spire West customers saw the cost of gas double, going from 40 cents per hundred cubic feet of natural gas used to 79 cents. That jump reflected the price increase that the natural gas market has experienced starting with Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, according to Spire officials, when gas traded at $200-$600/MMBtu compared to normal prices in the $2-$6/MMBtu range. An MMBtu represents 1 million British thermal units and is a way natural gas is measured for financial contracts.

The change meant an increase of about $24.36 per month, or 41.5%, for the typical natural gas residential customer, defined as someone an average of 60 to 65 ccf per month.

Non-gas increase

In April, Spire also filed a natural gas rate case with the Missouri PSC seeking a net increase in its natural gas revenues of approximately $151.9 million. About $8.5 million of that is already being collected under the Infrastructure System Replacement Surcharge that appears as a separate line item on customer bills, leaving an overall increase of $143.4 million.

Under this proposal, the typical customer in western Missouri will see an increase of $10.95 per month, or 12.65%, if the rate request is approved in full, Merrill said.

A rate case typically takes 11 months.

Company officials said this is a separate "non-gas" case, and reflects recovery for Spire's operating and maintenance costs as well as infrastructure investment, and it does not include the cost of the natural gas itself.

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. He is a graduate of Kansas State University who has worked at the Globe for 38 years. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.