St. Louis - Missouri: Heat-Up St. Louis, Inc., a nonprofit energy assistance program, established to help low-income and elderly people in the St. Louis region, voted unanimously to oppose Laclede Gas Company's proposed non-gas $39 million rate hike. The rate hike would add an average of $4.90 per month to the typical residential customer's bill.
The executive board of Heat-Up St. Louis voted unanimously to oppose the rate hike in a special meeting on Friday, October 26 after listening to several Heat-Up St. Louis officials explain various elements of the proposed rate hike.
"At a time when everyone is pitching in to helping America prevail, we do not think it is unreasonable to also ask Laclede Gas to extend themselves to help the needy, working poor, and laid-off workers,"said Curt Swearingen, corporate treasurer of Heat-Up St. Louis.
Heat-Up St. Louis also needs volunteers to help with petition drives and letter writing campaigns to the Missouri Public Service Commission in Jefferson City, by calling 314-241-7668. Tax-deductible contributions may be made to Heat-Up St. Louis, Inc., c/o Truman Bank, P.O. Box 9330, St. Louis, MO 63117. Every dollar donated goes to help the needy, as all administrative costs are underwritten by an all-volunteer board of directors.
The Laclede Gas service area includes the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the counties of St. Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Ste.Genevieve, St. Francois, Iron and Butler. The petition and letter writing campaign drive will take place during the month of November, prior to the official hearings in December in Jefferson City.
"At the current time Laclede has profits and cash in the bank," said Curt Swearingen, corporate treasurer of Heat-Up St. Louis. "This proposal also comes at a time when gas prices are forecasted to decrease and there is a potential for a surplus."
Swearingen, a certified public accountant and financial advisor, based his recommendations on the Laclede Gas Company's Direct Testimony and Supporting Schedules as presented to the Missouri Public Service Commission.
"Revenues of Laclede Gas rose 88% to $910.7 million for the nine months ending, June 30, 2001," said Swearingen. "Their profit applicable to common stock rose 21% to $35.5 million."
"Our concern is that this rate hike for non-gas concerns will be at the expense of the elderly and low-income people, who are still reeling over the outrageous natural gas hike from thispast winter," said Gentry W. Trotter, president of the board. "Utilities like Laclede Gas have to balance their social responsibility with the demands from their stockholders."
Trotter attended both Missouri Public Service Commission hearings earlier this month, and listened to senior citizens and other Laclede Gas Company customers complain.
"It was clear based on testimony from those who could attend and participate in a one-way discussion that the elderly with fixed incomes and health related issues need more economic relief," said Trotter. "Also since the September 11 terrorist acts, many in the service sector, which includes the working poor will be hit the hardest, despite Laclede's announcement that natural gas prices will be cheaper this winter."
Trotter predicts if the war against terrorism deepens, it will have a devastating impact on all sectors in the job market. In addition, there is a chance of gas, oil and propane prices increasing this winter based on a major international and national crises, including an unanticipated cold winter.
In addition to voting against the Laclede Gas rate hike, several Heat-Up St. Louis officials would like to see the Cold Weather Rule expanded from October to May each year. "These extra three months will be helpful to the needy, as they are often battling summer utility costs," said Trotter, "This also might be positive for the utility companies."
"One of the best solutions to summer and winter shut-off problems long term may be the establishment of a special discount utility rate for the low-income, disabled, and elderly people," said Trotter. "If energy to heat or cool one's home is affordable, we might have fewer shut-off notices."
"Our mission is to raise awareness and funds for the needy, and Laclede Gas needs to take some of that $30 million or more profit from last year, and give it back to the needy and not the greedy," said Trotter.