Higher heating bills

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

When it comes to natural gas rates, where you live makes all the difference.

On Nov. 1, AmerenUE began charging higher gas rates for this winter for its 111,000 Missouri customers. The Missouri Public Service Commission approved the rate increases, which vary by location.

In the counties of Cape Girardeau, Scott and most of Stoddard, the increase will be on average $12.30 a month.

But in the Butler and Bollinger counties and the Stoddard County town of Advance, the increase will be about $16.47 a month.

Why the difference?

Ameren explains it this way:

The amounts vary due to differences in supplier costs, average customer usage and an adjustment to reflect any undercollection or overcollection of actual costs during previous years.

Further, Ameren says there are three different natural gas systems in Missouri, and they are not connected to each other. Each system -- there are two in Southeast Missouri alone -- has different wholesale suppliers. As a result, the price customers pay is different.

In other words, each system has an independent supplier with different transmission pipelines. The delivery costs for each of these systems is different.

One-third of Ameren's natural gas bills is constant and doesn't change. Two-thirds of the average residential bill is the wholesale cost of gas. That's what changes.

Ameren reviews its rates every year based on wholesale costs. Ameren is already looking to raise natural gas rates again for next year to compensate for operating costs.

The PSC was in Cape Girardeau last week to seek public input on an average monthly rate increase of $16.26 that could take effect next November. Only two people spoke at the hearing, but the message was the same: Any increase of that magnitude would create a financial burden on Ameren's customers.

The PSC brought two commissioners and several staff to the Show Me Center to gather public input. So far, the PSC staff is questioning the need for that much of an increase.

Formal hearings on the case are scheduled to begin in January, and the PSC expects to make a ruling by April.

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