Spire seeks to raise gas rates for Missouri customers, shortly after its last increase
St. Louis-based natural gas utility Spire is again seeking to increase rates for Missouri customers, a move that would boost yearly revenue by $152 million.
The request comes just five months after Missouri state regulators approved a nearly 3% rate hike for Spire, on top of sharply rising gas costs. Housing advocates warn increasing utility prices coupled with near-record inflation will hurt low-income residents struggling to make ends meet. But Spire officials say another rate hike is needed to cover the cost of employee salaries, after state regulators revised long-standing policies last year.
Spire raised rates in December by about $1.72 per month for residential customers, on average — roughly half the amount the utility had requested.
While reviewing the yearlong rate case, the Missouri Public Service Commission questioned Spire’s accounting practices and ordered the utility to undergo an audit.
As part of its final decision, the five-member commission told Spire it must follow federal accounting standards and as such, the utility could no longer cover corporate salaries and other overhead costs using revenue from pipelines and other capital projects.
“We felt that we were doing it properly; we’ve been doing it that way for decades,” said Scott Weitzel, the company’s vice president of regulatory and governmental affairs.
To pay for employee salaries, Spire filed a request with state regulators on April 1 to increase natural gas rates.
If approved, bills for residential customers in eastern Missouri would increase by 10% or about $8 per month, Spire told state regulators in early April. Customers on the western side of the state would see a 13% monthly increase or about $11.
Public comment is open on the rate case through April 25.
“We never intended to file another rate review this quickly,” Weitzel said. “We understand the concern in the community and we’re sensitive to that, because we’re a fuel of choice. So we’re very mindful of keeping our products competitive in the energy marketplace.”
The utility’s five highest-earning executives received more than $12 million in compensation in 2021, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Suzanne Sitherwood, Spire’s president and CEO, received $5.57 million last year — an increase of more than 20% compared to 2020.
For housing advocate Kristian Blackmon, rising utility rates are particularly frustrating given the high earnings of corporate executives.
“These are people that are making a ton of money off of poverty, off of the working class,” said Blackmon, coalition coordinator with the St. Louis chapter of Homes For All, an organization that advocates for tenants’ rights.
People of color and those living below the poverty line are more likely to live in energy-inefficient homes and pay a larger share of their income for energy costs. One study found homes in low-income communities used about 25% to 60% more energy per square foot compared to more affluent areas.
Even relatively small increases in utility costs add up for low-income residents, Blackmon said.
“It's a big deal for someone who's already on a very fixed income or very strict budget, or only has enough to pay for necessities, maybe groceries,” she said. “Utilities are not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan