Natural gas bills could increase this winter

Thursday, May 29, 2008 | 6:18 p.m. CDT; updated 7:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Some Missouri utilities this winter will be able to add an extra $100 to $200 for what they charge customers to help cover rising wholesale natural gas prices.

AmerenUE, Atmos Energy and Missouri Gas Energy each received approval Thursday to charge consumers more on their gas bills because the utilities must spend more to buy natural gas from suppliers.

State utility regulators said they are likely to consider a similar request from Empire District next week, and that Laclede Gas also is expected to ask for an increase in its gas purchase adjustment.

Those five utilities account for most of Missouri’s gas customers.

The higher gas purchase adjustments would be spread across the November-to-March winter heating season. Utilities are permitted to seek changes to their gas purchase adjustments several times each year, and the most recent increases could be changed based on fluctuations in wholesale natural gas prices.

Based on Thursday’s decision, AmerenUE’s 124,000 customers would pay an extra $119, Missouri Gas Energy’s 500,000 users an additional $175 and price changes for Atmos’ 58,000 consumers would vary from $145 to $181. The new gas adjustments begin Sunday for Atmos and AmerenUE and Tuesday for Missouri Gas Energy.

“That’s not welcome news for consumers,” said Public Service Commission Chairman Jeff Davis.

The additional charges only factor market prices for natural gas and do not include company profits. State regulators said that the utilities are paying up to 40 percent more for wholesale natural gas than they did last May.

A spokesman for the commission said the size of the gas adjustment this early in the year is significant. Spokesman Kevin Kelly said Missourians need to start looking for ways to make their homes more energy efficient.

“Customers need to act now and not wait until winter,” he said.

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