Spire’s messages on pipeline ‘overstate the likelihood of closure,’ per Missouri regulators

The Missouri Public Service Commission wants to see all of Spire’s communications about the pipeline with customers since this summer.

By: - November 19, 2021 2:51 pm

Spire Missouri President Scott Carter discusses the fate of the Spire STL Pipeline at a press conference last month. The company issued a dire warning to customers that their gas service could be in jeopardy this winter, causing the Missouri Public Service Commission to investigate the company’s communications. (Screenshot via Facebook)

Missouri energy regulators want to know everything Spire has told its natural gas customers since this summer about the Spire STL Pipeline after finding the utility was overstating the risk to St. Louis residents’ service. 

Spire Missouri’s communications with its customers, according to staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission, “appear to reflect an attempt by Spire to mobilize public opinion, through fear, in order to potentially pressure federal authorities” to extend the pipeline’s authorization, at least through the winter. 

The 65-mile pipeline has been operational since 2019, bringing natural gas into the St. Louis area. But its certificate to operate was vacated this summer by a federal appeals court following a challenge by the Environmental Defense Fund. It was granted a 90-day extension by federal regulators, which expires Dec. 13 but appears likely to be extended through the winter. 

Earlier this month, Spire sent out a warning to its customers that, without the pipeline, their natural gas service could be disrupted on cold days this winter. 

“We want to keep you informed and prepared for potential natural gas disruptions — and outages — this winter if the pipeline is not kept in service,” the email said, blaming a “New York-based environmental group” that challenged the pipeline in court. 

That email kicked off a public feud between Spire and EDF over the utility’s messaging. EDF and some local lawmakers in St. Louis called Spire’s claims a “manufactured crisis.” And EDF demanded the utility cease and desist its “false and defamatory” claims

In addition to the email, Spire set up a webpage — spireenergy.com/critical — with a video warning of “serious service disruptions” and directing customers to submit supportive comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will decide whether to extend the pipeline’s authorization.

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“Staff’s cursory examination of Spire’s website revealed a number of public communications posted there that indeed overstate the likelihood of the closure of Spire’s STL Pipeline and resulting dangers to the public,” PSC staff said in a motion filed Thursday and approved by the commission. 

In a statement, Spire’s spokesman, Jason Merrill said Spire would “welcome the opportunity to work with the Missouri Public Service Commission and will continue to communicate the facts to our customers about potential natural gas service disruptions if the STL Pipeline is taken out of service.

Spire sent another email to its customers Thursday saying it was encouraged by FERC commissioners’ statements during the agency’s monthly meeting on Thursday that they intended to act on the pipeline before Dec. 13. 

Commissioner Mark Christie, the email noted, said keeping the pipeline operating through the winter would eliminate uncertainty and alleviate residents’ and politicians’ worries. 

“Although we still lack the certainty of an official approval for continued operation of the pipeline for the full winter heating season, we’re encouraged by the commissioners’ statements committing to act before the current approval expires,” the email says. 

Under the PSC order, Spire was to send a follow-up email for tis customers to the PSC for approval and turn over all of its communications about the pipeline since this summer. 

PSC staff will make a recommendation within 45 days as to whether to file a complaint against Spire for “false and misleading communications to its customers and the public; failure to ensure the availability of sufficient gas supplies for the upcoming winter heating season” and any other matters that come up as the result of staff’s investigation. Staff are also to file an investigation regarding Spire’s communications with customers about the pipeline. 

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.

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