PSC sets deadline for those wishing to intervene, comment on Liberty rate case

·4 min read

Jun. 6—The Missouri Public Service Commission has set a deadline for those wishing to intervene and participate in an electric-utility rate case filed last week by Joplin-based Liberty.

On May 28, Liberty filed a request with the PSC seeking to increase gross annual electric revenues by $79.9 million.

That request, if approved in full, would raise by $12.76 per month — 9.68% — the bill of its typical electric customer in Missouri, defined as someone using around 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month.

Applications to intervene and participate in this case must be filed no later than June 22 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 opcs ervice@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).

The Missouri Office of the Public Counsel is a separate state agency that represents the general public in matters before the PSC.

Liberty also filed an application with the PSC seeking an "Accounting Authority Order" regarding costs it said it incurred during the Arctic weather that hit the Midwest and part of the South in February.

Applications to intervene and participate in that part of the case must be filed no later than June 24 with the secretary of the PSC, at the same address.

As part of its May 28 filing, Liberty also seeks recovery of the cost of natural gas during the arctic cold snap, when Midwest utilities experienced record price spikes. It would 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 using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month.

Rate request

Liberty, as part of its conversion from coal to renewable energy, has spent several years building 69 wind turbines at its North Fork Ridge Wind Farm in Barton County, another 69 turbines at its Kings Point Wind Farm near Golden City, and another 139 turbines at its Neosho Ridge Wind Farm north of Parsons, Kansas. The three wind farms represent an overall investment of $1.2 billion, according to Liberty officials, but because there is no fuel cost, the utility argues it will be cheaper for customers in the long term than staying with fossil fuels for electricity generation.

The rate request also includes recovery for $43.5 million the company has invested in smart meters for its Missouri customers and several million it has invested in its first solar farm. Included in the rate case is a request to recover investments the utility has made to strengthen and improve its system, including new substations, thousands of wildlife guards to prevent outages and devices that automatically isolate an outage to as few customers as possible. The request also includes the cost of retiring debt for its Asbury coal-fired generating station north of Joplin; the plant has been converted to the Asbury Renewables Operations Center.

Winter storm

The other part of the rate increase will cover Liberty's cost of buying natural gas when prices spiked in February because of the extreme and prolonged cold snap that Liberty and other utilities said created record demand and even forced rolling power interruptions.

The PSC has opened an investigation into the operation of investor-owned utilities in the state, including Liberty, during that time, but no report has been completed.

Aaron Doll, senior director of energy strategy, said market prices for a megawatt of energy typically average around $20 that time of year, but spiked to $4,000 for a megawatt for a sustained four- to five-day period. Liberty burns natural gas at its State Line and Riverton generating plants. The cost of the fuel is passed through to customers and typically shows up as a separate charge or credit on customer bills.

Doll noted that their purchase contracts are reviewed and evaluated by the PSC to see if they are prudent.

Recent rate history

This is the second full rate case Liberty has sought for Southwest Missouri since acquiring Empire in 2017.

Liberty filed a request in August 2019, asking to increase its annual electric revenues by $26.5 million in Missouri. Liberty customers in Southwest Missouri would have seen their monthly bills rise by 5.9% if the rate request was approved in full, and a customer using a thousand kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would have seen the bill rise by $7.85.

The Missouri PSC allowed only an annual revenue increase of $992,400, meaning a residential customer using a thousand kilowatt-hours a month would see an increase of 48 cents per month, or 0.37%.

The PSC typically takes up to 11 months to act upon a rate case.

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