April Fools, Empire Electric Edition
It's snowing in April. Joplinites have come to expect wild weather swings, especially in the spring. Radical temperature swing are the new normal for those who move to the area. Another spring expectation is that yet another request for a rate increase from the local energy provider monopoly, Empire District Electric Company, EDE, will be filed with the Missouri Public Service Commission.
The non-joke April 1st filing of EDE hardly made front-page news. In fact, I cannot find anything from the Joplin Globe related to this increase that would affect everyone in the Joplin area. See stories here and here for the press release. The release is absent from their website newsroom as of 4/14.
The day after the cold-weather rule ended (a rule which saves customers from literally freezing to death because they can not afford their bills) Empire has disclosed that they over-billed customers more than $200,000 due to errant usage estimates. They are also requesting rate increases that amount to approximately $3.9 million. Individual users should expect to pay an additional $1.49 for every 1000 Kw used each month. Empire earnings were $55.7 million in 2012 and $63.4 million in 2013.
Empire is a monopoly regulated by the Missouri Public Service commission, a committee comprised of individuals appointed by the Governor. The rate making process essentially guarantees EDE will make a continual profit, which it distributes to shareholders. Higher returns from EDE will undoubtedly result in better bonuses for its executives. PSC is tasked with balancing a "reasonable profit" with "reasonable rates." Most in Joplin disagree that rates are reasonable.
Other utilities, including Missouri Gas Energy, are voluntarily extending the cold weather rule. Empire customers who are behind on payments should expect notices for imminent shut-off and balance collection. The Public Service Commission will likely host a public forum. A press release is expected sometime after May 1st indicating times and dates for the public hearing. However, citizens can add comments prior to the forum here, and comments and filings can currently be viewed here by searching for case ER-2014-0264 and hitting enter.
Empire's motto is "Service you can count on." Customers can also count on a request for rate increase at every possible opportunity.