Aquila pushes for rate increase

Natural gas provider Aquila Inc. wants to raise its rates enough to cover cost increases and give a 12 percent return to investors. But some critics say the company’s proposed $7.24 million increase is too high.

Aquila Inc. representatives traveled to Lawrence on Monday for a public meeting to discuss a proposed natural gas service increase that would affect 33,000 Lawrence customers.

“That 12 percent is not just pulled out of the air,” said James Flaherty, an attorney for Aquila. Flaherty said the number reflected what research determined shareholders would expect.

The meeting, which attracted just two members of the public to the Dole Institute of Politics, was the third in a series of public forums across the state. Meetings also have been conducted in Topeka and Dodge City.

Aquila in November proposed a $7.2 million increase in rates. The plan would increase the typical residential customer’s bill by about $53 annually or $76 annually, depending on how each bill would be calculated, according to the Kansas Corporation Commission.

The increases would involve the 25 percent of a customer’s bill that goes for expenses other than the cost of natural gas supplied to consumers. Those expenses include fuel for Aquila trucks, costs to maintain and improve lines, employee health care and payroll, and other expenses, according to Aquila representatives.

Kansas Corporation Commission staff have recommended cutting the revenue increase to $4.2 million.

And the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, a governor-appointed consumer advocacy board, wants to trim the figure to $3.4 million, including a 9.35 percent return for Aquila investors.

“We look at it and say 9.35 is appropriate : given the existing rate design,” said David Springe, consumer counsel for CURB.

The parties will appear at a hearing April 23 in Topeka. The KCC, which is expected to make a decision in June, is accepting public comment through April 20.