By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A half-dozen municipal gas utilities that had been charging customers without state approval now have filed temporary rates with the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
The agency still must approve those rates and could do so as early as Friday, said Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.
“This is the first step,” Presley said. “What’s going to flow from this will be those full rate cases to justify any charges.”
Presley had uncovered the lack of approvals in May while investigating a complaint about the Pontotoc Gas System. According to law, municipal utilities must seek PSC approval for rates charged to customers at least one mile outside the city limits.
In Pontotoc’s case, Presley ordered the utility to cease charging its $9.56 per unit fee and revert back to the latest price update on file, submitted more than a decade ago: $7.14.
Other cities – Batesville, Booneville, Holly Springs, New Albany and Walnut – had never filed rates with the commission. They were notified of their non-compliance and had until June 15 to submit temporary rates.
Their temporary residential rates, now on file, range from about $8 to $13 per MCF, which is a unit of gas, according to figures provided by the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. The MPUS is collaborating with the PSC on this issue.
Most customer gas rates fluctuate monthly and are set by city utilities according to a variety of factors, including commodity market rates, availability of stored gas, pipeline fees, supply management fees and other costs associated with operation and maintenance.
A Daily Journal review of gas rates from several Northeast Mississippi utilities revealed prices usually differed from each other by only a few dollars and had ebbed and flowed along the same general curve.
Together, the six utilities targeted by Presley serve roughly 23,890 customers, according to the MPUS. Of them, nearly 40 percent reside more than a mile outside the city operating the gas service. Pontotoc Gas System alone serves more than a third of these rural customers – 3,889.