On Tuesday, the Illinois Commerce Commission held a scheduled public hearing – the only scheduled public hearing – on gas and electricity rate increases for Ameren’s 1.2 million customers. Ameren estimates the increases, slated for 2012, would cause the average customer’s electric bill to increase $36 a year, and gas by up to $38 a year.
Nancy Nelson is the advocacy manager for AARP Illinois, an organization that lobbies on behalf of people 50 and older. She also was one of the two dozen people attending Tuesday’s hearing. AARP Illinois estimates utility bills equal about 14 percent of their members’ average monthly income.
“With the economy, (our members) are very concerned. They’re very concerned about being able to pay their utility bills and, as a result, we are advocating in the Legislature and with rate hike hearings like this to not have unnecessary rate hikes,” Nelson said. AARP Illinois said Ameren’s profit margins for the past year – about 11 percent for the electricity side of the business and about 10 percent for the gas side of the business – were high enough, and that any rate increase would only increase those margins.
The actual rate increases vary, depending on where customers live.
Ameren customers in the former CIPS coverage area – mainly Western and Southern Illinois – would see an 11 percent increase in electricity rates and a 15.5 percent increase for the cost of natural gas. Ameren customers in the former CILCO service area – mainly Central Illinois – would see a 16.5 percent electricity rate increase and a 24 percent hike for the cost of natural gas.
Ameren customers in the former Illinois Power coverage area – mainly pockets of areas north of Peoria and east of St. Louis – would see a 2.5 percent increase in electricity rates and a 14.5 percent increase for the cost of natural gas. Carol Howe lives in Lincoln and is an Ameren customer in the former CILCO area. “I’ll have to buy not as much ice cream, but I think I could handle it. I’m not sure other people could,” she said. “I’ve got some friends who literally live hand to mouth.” Originally, Ameren was asking for $110 million from rate increases, but the utility since has dropped that figure to about $90 million.
Jacqueline Voiles, Ameren Illinois’ director of regulatory affairs, said the influx of money is needed to upgrade infrastructure for the delivery of gas and electricity, and help replace an aging vehicle fleet. Any upgrades would create a more consistent delivery of electricity and natural gas to customers, she said. “There’s really no good time to ask for a rate increase, but we continue to see costs increase, and there’s only so much we can do if we try to cut costs and contain our costs,” Voiles said.
The ICC will review Ameren’s request during the next four months and will determine whether the company can increase rates, either by what the company requested or by a lower number set by the ICC. The commission also could deny Ameren’s rate-increase request.
Last year, Ameren was awarded a $43.7 million total rate increase after initially asking for $162 million.
Residents can estimate their specific rate increases at www.IllinoisRateFacts.com.
Adapted from a post at thetelegraph.com