Electricity rate relief offered to some in Ill.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Illinois schools, churches, not-for-profits and senior centers facing financial hardship because of escalating electricity costs may be eligible for relief.

Qualifying organizations can apply for a one-time grant of up to $5,000 from Ameren Illinois Utilities.

Those that meet requirements will be awarded grants on a "first-come, first-served" basis, said Neal Johnson, a spokesman for Ameren. The Energy Assistance Foundation, an independent agency, will review the applications, which are due by Sept. 26.

Funds for the grants were established last year through a settlement between legislators and electric companies. Negotiations began after customers saw an average 40 to 55 percent annual increase following a decade-long rate freeze. The relief package approved totaled $1 billion.

"This is one of the new programs under the relief umbrella," Johnson said.

According to the utility's website, $6 million will be allocated over four years for the "Non-Residential Hardship Assistance" program.

Several Illinois school administrators interviewed said they had not heard of the program but would be calling for more information.

Applications can be submitted online at www.ameren.com or by calling 800-232-2477.

To qualify, the organizations must have been a customer since Jan. 1, 2007 and demonstrate a "financial hardship due to the electric rate increase." Small businesses, defined as being independently owned and operated and having less than 50 employees, are also eligible.

Missouri does not have a comparable relief program, according to Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher. She said rates have not increased as quickly in Missouri. Voluntary contributions through "Dollar More" are allocated to the United Way of Greater St. Louis for distribution to those in need, she said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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