Ameren customers will have a chance to show how the company's fifth rate increase request in six years will affect them during a series of public hearings across the state, including one in Cape Girardeau next month.
In February, the utility company asked the Missouri Public Service Commission to allow Ameren to increase its revenue by $375.6 million. For the average residential customer, the proposed increase would be about 14 percent, or $14 a month based on 1,100 kilowatt hours of usage per month, said Gregg Ochoa, spokesman for the Public Service Commission. The commission has until January to make a decision on Ameren's request.
The Public Service Commission will host a dozen hearings beginning July 26 and ending Aug. 23 in various locations across the state to receive input from utility customers on the rate increase request. In Southeast Missouri hearings are scheduled for Aug. 21 at noon at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau and 6 p.m. at the Boothell Regional Planning Commission in Dexter, Mo.
Ameren contends the latest rate increase is needed to cover higher fuel costs, infrastructure improvements to help prevent power outages, higher costs for energy-efficiency programs, and increasing costs to meet renewable energy requirements and provide employee benefits, according to its website.
The Public Service Commission's staff, including engineers, accountants and auditors, are reviewing the company's request and will make a recommendation to the commission, explained Ochoa. Commission members will take this recommendation as well as testimony from public hearings into account when making a decision on the rate request, he said.
The commission will also conduct an evidentiary hearing at its offices in Jefferson City, Mo., from Sept. 24 through Oct. 12.
"The company officials and their financial experts will come and basically present their case. It's a courtroom-like setting where you have attorneys who ask questions and they'll submit written testimony and exhibits," Ochoa said. The hearing can be viewed each day on the commission's website.
The PSC has granted Ameren the following base rate increases since 2007:
August 2007: $42,788,000
March 2009: $161,709,000
June 2010: $229,600,000
August 2011: $173,225,000.
This latest increase proposal will make it even more difficult for those who are already struggling to pay their utility bills to keep up, said Bill Bunch, executive director of the East Missouri Action Agency.
"Not just the low income folks we serve, but even the people who work for us are struggling to pay their bills, too," Bunch said.
So far this year, East Missouri Action Agency has given $323,000 in utility assistance to low income families in Southeast Missouri.
"Those bills due to the recent heat wave haven't even hit yet," Bunch said.
As of Friday, the agency had about $42,000 left to help with utility assistance and expected to run out of funds by the middle of this week.
The Agency can provide up to $300 per family in emergency energy assistance, depending on income eligibility.
The statewide association of community action agencies, the Missouri Association for Community Action, is planning to submit testimony to the Public Service Commission on the affect of a rate increase on those it serves.
The city of Cape Girardeau is also keeping a close eye on this latest Ameren rate increase request, said city manager Scott Meyer. The city's annual utility bill is around $1.75 million but Meyer said he hadn't calculated exactly what the impact on the city would be.
"It is a big line item in our budget," Meyer said. "We have done several energy savings projects in order to try to use less. Anytime there is an increase in rates, that makes those projects more important," he said.
Those unable to attend the public hearing who wish to submit comments may call 800-392-4211 or visit psc.mo.gov.
1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.