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Midwest Attorneys General Want Closer Look at Utility Efforts to Protect Gas Consumers

The attorneys general of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin sent letters to seven natural gas utilities requesting projections on natural gas prices and demand for the upcoming heating season. The attorneys general want utilities to explain the measures they are taking to protect consumers from rising gas prices.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said the information provided by the utilities will be used to develop best-practice approaches to protecting energy consumers. Those approaches could include changes in how Missouri regulates utilities, programs to protect low-income and other at-risk groups, consumer education, and litigation.

The letters were sent to executives at Aquila Inc. subsidiaries Aquila Networks MPS and Aquila Networks SJLP, Atmos Energy subsidiaries United Cities Gas and Associated Natural Gas, Fidelity Natural Gas, Laclede Gas Co., Southern Missouri Gas, Southern Union Co. subsidiary Missouri Gas Energy, and Ameren UE.

Nixon noted that the Department of Energy is projecting that consumers in the Midwest could see a 60% increase in gas costs for heating this winter. "Missourians will be especially hard hit if natural gas prices go through the roof this winter as predicted, because 57% of the homes in our state are heated with natural gas," he said in a statement. "We need to know what the projections are for prices and demand, and what the utilities have been doing to soften the expected blow that consumers are going to take in their pocketbooks."

The letters request projections of gas prices and demand for the heating season, historical data for the past three heating seasons, the causes of any price increases, and the measures utilities are taking to lessen the impact on consumers statewide, including fixed rate plans, subsidies, bill amnesties, budget payment plans and consumer education efforts. The attorneys general also want details on the internal efforts utilities have taken to improve energy efficiency, conservation, price hedging and other steps to control price volatility.

"Dramatically higher utility rates this winter could have a devastating impact not only on homeowners, but also on those who have to pay the heating bills for schools, businesses, churches and other buildings," Nixon said. "As Missouri's consumer advocate, I want to find out now what is being done and what can be done to help energy consumers."

On behalf of state agencies, departments and institutions, Nixon also has filed at the Missouri Public Service Commission to intervene in a docket on winter gas prices. Nixon said he wants to intervene in the case to "protect the state's interest in assuring reliable natural gas service at reasonable and lawful rates.

"Because the state and its agencies are major consumers of utility services, including natural gas, the state has a significant interest in this investigation," he said. "What's good for the state's budget will be good for the consumers' budget."

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