After Spire Missouri warned its 600,000 customers that its ability to heat 400,000 homes and businesses this winter is "in jeopardy," the energy company now says that it is "encouraged" by statements from federal regulators deliberating on the fate of a key pipeline.
Just eleven days remain before a December 13 deadline that could see Spire lose the operating license to its key St. Louis pipeline — a threat that the company shared in a November 4 email that sent customers panicking while also outraging some local officials.
As the Riverfront Times reported last month, the current mess has been years in the making
, but only heated up recently as Spire's license for the St. Louis Pipeline neared its expiration. If the license expires, the company has warned that it would not be able to make up the shortfall through other sources of natural gas — potentially putting thousands of St. Louisans at risk during the cold months of winter.
However, in a December 1 email, Spire informed customers that recent statements by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission indicate that a temporary license, which would allow the pipeline to continue operating through the winter, is on its way.
"Based on these impressions," the email stated, "the Spire STL Pipeline seems poised to receive approval from the FERC to operate throughout this winter."
While Spire's latest communication doesn't hit the alarm levels of its earlier email, the company maintains that the risk to customers is real. Even with contingency plans and alternative sources of gas, the company writes, "There’s just not enough capacity on other pipelines to guarantee that Spire Missouri will obtain the quantity of gas the region needs for peak days."
Even if FERC awards Spire a temporary operating permit, the underlying challenge to the pipeline remains unresolved: Although FERC itself approved the pipeline's construction in 2018, a legal challenge eventually led the U.S. Court of Appeals to rule that the earlier approval had been unlawful — even though, by the time the ruling arrived, the $280 million pipeline was already moving gas to St. Louis. Meanwhile, Spire says it no longer has the same level of access to its previous gas pipelines and infrastructure, meaning it can't make up the difference if the new pipeline loses its license.
In its recent email, Spire expressed confidence toward FERC while also hedging its predictions:
"Although we still lack the certainty of an official approval for continued operation of the Spire STL Pipeline for the full winter heating season, we’re encouraged by the FERC Commissioners’ statements committing to act before the current approval expires on Dec. 13."
Spire's email did not address a recent rate hike for some residents in St. Louis
and southwest Missouri
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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