Heat-Up. St. Louis Plans to File Objection to the Laclede Gas Catching-Up Program Through the Missouri Public Service Commission; Chairman J. Kim Tucci Calls Plan An Elaborate Scheme at the Expense of All of the Ratepayers
Heat-Up St. Louis, a non-profit, non-utility charity and advocacy group which provides heating assistance to families in Missouri and Illinois counties during the winter months, announced plans to have its executive board oppose the Laclede Gas new program, "Catch-Up/Keep-Up" which supposedly will assist some low-income customers in paying off their past due bills.
"We believe that the Missouri Public Service Commission should take a closer look at that gift horse," says J. Kim Tucci, Chairman of the board of directors for Heat-Up St. Louis. "This proposed program is funded in no way by the stockholders. In fact the program would put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Laclede Gas pockets which would not flow to ratepayers." Tucci will present his testimony before the Commission, when it is scheduled. However, he will inform the PSC Commissioners in person of his intent on Wednesday, August 14 at the public hearing in the City of St. Louis.
Heat-Up St. Louis officials believe that the actual people that Laclede Gas are "attempting" to help, along with other ratepayers, will eventually be hurt by the withdrawal of that 30% that they are proposing to use from pipeline discounts. When utility prices escalate, and they do each winter, ratepayers will automatically lose that 30% buffer. If the Missouri Public Service Commission approves the current Catch-Up/Keep-Up Program then it will definitely reduce savings for all of the ratepayers by 30%.
"The proposed Laclede Gas program needs to be re-worked to include significant dollars from the stockholders as they are quite charitable with our pipeline discounts," says Tucci. "We support energy forgiveness programs by all utilities," says Tucci. "But we encourage the Laclede stockholder to become a major player of the ‘Catch-Up/Keep-Up' plan."
What Laclede Gas wants to do is take a portion of what is primarily pipeline discounts of $18 million from its suppliers, and use 30% of that to refuel their profits. And the ratepayers currently have a choice to give to utilities' charities and that is on a volunteer basis.
Currently all ratepayers are enjoying the entire $18 million dollar pass through. The significant pipeline discounts are helping to reduce the costs of all ratepayers' natural gas bills. What Laclede wants to do is take 20% percent and give it to their Laclede Gas Dollar-Help charity and wall-off these monies to only gas customers in need. This means that needy families with electric, heating oil, and propane, might not be eligible.
"Further, Laclede has taken a bold step by requesting that 10% of that 30% goes back into its profit line as a reward for negotiating those significant pipeline discounts," says Tucci. "Laclede Gas management is already being paid to do this."
There are better alternatives: One would be to establish at its expense a special gas utility rate for the elderly, disabled and low-income people, Laclede and the ratepayers will save significantly. The other would be to increase its annual donation from about $48,000 of matching funds to Dollar-Help, Inc., to a direct cash donation of $2 million annually and continue to open up the process to all home energy sources to ensure that no one slips through the cracks.
"Laclede Gas proudly boast that no legislation is necessary since ratepayer dollars are not involved, and we beg to differ," says Tucci. "The ratepayers' significant pipeline discounts of 30% directly impacts everyone with natural gas service."
Laclede Gas needs to turn off their switch of greed and turn on the switch of compassion. They need to give the ratepayer the opportunity to determine if he or she can afford to use these pipeline discounts to help put their children through college, pay their high air-conditioning bills from the previous summer; or pay their rent or mortgage on time each month.