Published December 3rd, 2021 at 10:37 AM
Spire Missouri customers will see big hikes in their natural gas bills this winter, with residents in the Kansas City area hit the hardest, as the energy market continues to struggle following February’s deep freeze.
The utility, which serves nearly 1.2 million customers around Missouri, says natural gas prices are up almost 60% compared to last year. And it incurred huge costs in February when temperatures plummeted below freezing for days on end.
As a monopoly utility, the company is permitted to pass those costs along to customers, but cannot profit off of them.
In Spire’s western territory, including Kansas City and almost 30 counties, customers’ bills will climb 41.54%, which averages to $24.36 per month. In St. Louis and surrounding areas, the hike will be 22.5%, an average of $14.52. Spire filed with regulators to spread those costs out over three years to avoid even higher price hikes.
“Fortunately, market reports indicate that natural gas prices are declining for future winter periods, and we are hopeful the current increase in gas costs is a short term holdover from this year’s polar vortex,” Scott Weitzel, the company’s managing director of regulatory and legislative affairs, said in a letter for the Missouri Public Service Commission.
The commission approved the increase Monday, and it went into effect Tuesday.
Spire has said the embattled Spire STL Pipeline, which saw its authorization to operate struck down by a federal court, saved up to $300 million for customers on the eastern side of the state during the winter storm. An investigation by Public Service Commission staff says that figure is overstated.
Spire spokesman Jason Merrill said there was “no question” that the pipeline had saved customers money.
February’s deep freeze, Winter Storm Uri, froze natural gas wellheads and disrupted transportation. The lack of fuel also put the electrical grid at risk, forcing rolling blackouts in the Kansas City area.
In the depth of the crisis, natural gas prices rose by as much as 200 times. Even after the Midwest warmed up, prices remained higher, and the storm depleted underground reserves of natural gas.
Energy regulators in Kansas warned in early November that customers would likely see higher prices this winter.
In Kansas, the costs from the week-long crisis is near $1 billion. Utilities, including Kansas Gas Service and Black Hills Energy, filed with Kansas regulators to spread those costs out for customers to repay over several years.
Customers of several other Missouri natural gas utilities, including Ameren in mid Missouri, have seen their bills climb because of the same price crunch.
Spire customers who need assistance can apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The income limit and amount of benefits customers can receive doubled this year. The program took effect for the year on Wednesday and runs through May.
Customers can attend webinars to guide them through the application process.
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, criticized the sudden announcement of the bill increases immediately before they took effect.
“If I’m not mistaken,” Bush said in an interview with The Independent, “Spire knew back in February that there would be this price hike, and they just announced it … when it went into effect.”