MISSOURI – Two weeks ago, an online petition titled “Liberty Utilities skyrocketing electric bills with new meters, 4-state citizens fed up” was created by Carterville resident Kortlynn Shaw. The petition has garnered nearly 5,000 signatures and a growing number of comments complaining about increased electric bills.

Shaw says that her experience with Liberty Utilities, now known as Liberty, was fine until the end of 2020. She claims December’s bill increased from her usual $200 to $300, and that January’s bill was double that.

Shaw says her electricity usage hasn’t changed or gone up. She thinks it’s even lessened due to her and her children’s schedules.

“We turn everything off, we don’t overuse,” said Shaw.

Shaw went to Facebook with her experience and saw that many people also encountered a “huge jump” in their January bill.

“It’s not just a couple people here and there, it’s like everyone is having this issue,” said Shaw.

Shaw thinks this might have something to do with the new smart meters that began being installed in June, 2020.

“I don’t think that they’re accurate at all… It has something wrong written all over it,” she said.

Residents that use mainly gas or solar energy are also claiming to have received higher bills recently.

Carl Junction resident Kathleen Conway uses solar energy and burns wood. She claims her heater runs about six hours a night and that she is using less electricity now than before she went solar.

Before going solar, Conway says her bill fluctuated between $100 to $300. After going solar, she claims her electric bill is up to about $400.

Conway spoke with her solar company and confirmed that her solar panels are producing energy. And due to monthly reports, she knows exactly how much energy they produce.

“My bill just keeps going up and up and up and up. And there’s no rhyme or reason for it,” said Conway.

Conway claims that she has experienced inconsistent billing from Liberty. She says that one month, she received a bill for $0, then a bill for over 80 days that was $317. She says the next month, she received a bill for 23 days that was $294.

“Liberty has been all over the place with their charges,” Conway said. “I’ve never had this problem. I’ve lived out in this area for almost 14 years and I have never had an issue with my bill fluctuating the way it is in this last year.”

Residents are also complaining about lack of options for electric providers and the market being monopolized.

“There are no other electric companies in the area… We need the competition. We definitely need people to have a choice,” Shaw said.

On Friday, February 12, Liberty responded to the claims of increased rates in a written statement:

“Our base electric rates do not fluctuate from month to month. Rates are set by the Missouri Public Service Commission as part of a rate case. The last rate change for Liberty (Empire District Electric Company) took effect September 16, 2020. Residential customers with an average monthly usage of 1,000 kWh saw an approximate increase of 48 cents per month, a change of 0.37% percent. Prior to that, Liberty-Empire’s last Missouri electric base rate update was effective September 14, 2016.”

“In addition to our base rates, there is a fuel adjustment charge (called Fuel Charge on the bill) that is adjusted every six months. By fuel, we mean the energy supply used at our power generation stations. This charge is based on what we actually spend, no more and no less. This means sometimes there’s a slight increase and sometimes there’s a slight decrease. As of December 31, 2020, there has been a decrease of $2.33 per month or 1.76% passed on to our customers,” Liberty continued.

Liberty claims that it is not uncommon for energy usage to increase during periods of harsh cold or hot temperatures. The company also claims it conducts tests on meters to check for accuracy to help ensure accurate billing.

“For customers who may be struggling with paying their bill, we have payment options and resources to assist customers. We can also connect customers with local organizations and programs that assist with utility bills and weatherizing homes to save energy,” said Liberty.

Liberty suggests that customers call them at 1-800-206-2300 or visit their website to find information regarding financial assistance.