JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - State utility regulators have approved a deal combining Missouri's two largest natural gas companies.
The Missouri Public Service Commission on Wednesday approved an agreement that allows Laclede Gas Co. to purchase Missouri Gas Energy.
Laclede Gas serves about 630,000 customers in the St. Louis area and parts of eastern Missouri. Missouri Gas Energy serves more than 500,000 customers in the Kansas City area and parts of western Missouri.
St. Louis-based Laclede Gas announced last December that it would pay about $1 billion to buy Missouri Gas Energy and New England Gas Co.
The deal approved by Missouri regulators bars Laclede Gas from seeking a general rate increase in its current service area until October 2015. But it could seek an immediate rate increase for the Missouri Gas Energy territory.
The Consumer Council, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, is arguing against passage of Missouri Senate Bill 207 that would allow Ameren to establish a surcharge in order to generate millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements.
Consumer groups argue that the extra revenue isn't needed since the utility earned well above it's authorized return limits in 2012. They also point to a $263 million rate increase that took effect in January.
Ameren officials say the higher than expected profits last year were due to unusual circumstances, like the extra-hot summer, and weren't enough to cover needed infrastructure improvements.