Missouri agency launches investigation after energy rates soared in storm

“We get a lot of traffic because of the bus stop,” says Sarah La Pierre on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, as she clears the sidewalk alongside her home along Jamieson Avenue in St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden, [email protected]

The agency that regulates Missouri energy utilities on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the companies’ “preparation for and response to” last week’s extreme winter weather, which gripped the central U.S., triggered widespread power shortages, and sent prices for natural gas and electricity skyrocketing.

The Missouri Public Service Commission launched the investigation to force electrical and natural gas utilities to explain what they learned from the shortages, how the costs will be passed to customers, and what they’d do better next time, according to the filing.

Prices rose a hundredfold in some towns, like mid-Missouri’s Fulton, which paid as much as $700,000 one day early last week, when the storm settled in, snow blanketed the state, and temperatures fell below zero.

And the full cost of the energy shortage isn’t yet known, said Geoff Marke, chief economist for the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, which argues before the PSC on behalf of consumers.

Marke is bracing for exorbitant costs to surface — especially for natural gas, where wholesale market prices were “just ridiculous,” he said, driven sky-high by shutdown gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma.

“The impact is potentially enormous,” said Marke. He noted that, in general, smaller utilities are more exposed to those impacts than bigger ones. And municipally owned utilities face perhaps the worst crunches of all.


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