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MGE can't use refunds to help customers pay bills, regulators say

By STEVE EVERLY - The Kansas City Star Date: 03/06/01 22:15

Missouri regulators ruled Tuesday that Missouri Gas Energy can't use about $1 million in pipeline refunds and other charges to help some of its customers pay their heating bills.

The utility already had given $250,000 to help create a $1.3 million assistance fund at the Mid America Assistance Coalition. But the balance of the money won't be coming because of a 3-1 decision by the Missouri Public Service Commission. One commissioner was absent.

"I can't believe it," said Jan Marcason, executive director of the Mid America Assistance Coalition. "The same three who voted for the 44 percent increase in January now decide to do this."

Missouri Gas Energy wanted to use pipeline refunds and other fees that typically are rebated to customers. But the utility argued that the money would have had little benefit when applied to all of its customers. The average refund would have been about $2, the company said.

The utility wanted to use the money to help customers who didn't qualify for other assistance programs but still had difficulty paying their gas bills. The guideline would have been slightly above the poverty level.

But the Missouri Public Service Commission ruled that state law gave it no choice but to deny the request. Money slated to be refunded to all of the utility's customers couldn't be used to benefit a smaller group, no matter how worthy the reason, the commission said.

Dissenting from the decision was Kelvin Simmons, a commissioner and former Kansas City councilman. He said he thinks regulators had the discretion to approve the program and should have done so.

"I believe it to be in the public interest to grant the request, and I believe it is sound public policy," he said.

To reach Steve Everly, call (816) 234-4455 or send e-mail to,business/37752ed6.306,.html

-- Tess (, March 09, 2001

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