Atmos Energy asks for rate hike in Dallas

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Nearly one year after a 12-year-old girl was killed in a gas explosion in northwest Dallas, Atmos Energy is asking to raise rates.

The company submitted a request to the city of Dallas this week. The average $3 a month increase per household would raise an additional $10 million a year.

Atmos said it is spending $119 million to replace and repair old gas lines.

Atmos has been replacing old lines in several neighborhoods since last February when a gas leak home explosion killed 12-year-old Michellita Rogers.

At the time, Atmos was already aware of two other gas related incidents, including another explosion, in the same neighborhood.

Deanna Ward heard the deadly explosion from her home on February 23.

“I was scared to open my door,” she said. “When I finally looked out, I saw this house and went oh no. Because I knew we had two more. It was getting scary.”

Ward thinks Atmos shareholders are the ones who should be helping to foot the $119 million bill to replace the 88 miles of old steel pipeline around the city that they should have replaced long ago.

“I don't like it at all,” she said. “I don't think we're responsible to pay for their mistakes.”

Atmos says the rate increase, that would generate $10 million for the company, is no different than other recent years.

"Since 2005, we have increased our rate of spending every year to modernize our system,” the company said in a statement. “Notably, last year’s filing was $16.2 million and the year prior was $10.7 million, so this year's filing is very much in line with recent years."

The home where Michellita lived is in State Representative Rafael Anchia's district. He introduced a package of bills this week to provide more oversight of natural gas companies like Atmos.

“After this young girl lost her life in the third explosion, there were long periods of time when inspectors and regulators weren’t on the scene,” Anchia said. “That's a problem that needs to be fixed.”

If the city denies the rate increase, the Texas Railroad Commission will get the final say.

Anchia wants to make sure the elected board members are not inappropriately influenced.

“They're taking campaign contributions at the same time. They're calling balls and strikes on some of these regulated entities. That's got to stop,” he said. “It's been proposed a long, long time. We need to get it done this session.”

Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Gates says that the city is always in a difficult situation because if the city negotiates a lower rate, and then the city council denies it, Atmos will take the higher rate to the railroad commission, which typically approves it.