Ameren proposes electric, natural gas rate increases

Ameren, the provider of natural gas and electric services for most Champaign-Urbana residents, filed a $226 million rate increase request Friday.

The hike — filed on the heels of a $162 million gas and electric rate increase 10 months ago — would mean an additional $97 a year for electricity and $55 for natural gas for the average residential customer, as defined by Ameren.

The proposed increase would cover increases in Ameren’s costs in the last year, said Ameren spokesperson Leigh Morris.

“It’s an issue of maintaining safe and reliable service,” Morris said.

If the increase is approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission, it will take effect in May 2010, he said.

“We appreciate that there is no good time to ask for a rate increase, especially with the economic challenges we are facing. We have taken steps to cut costs and control our spending, but we can’t cut them more without affecting safety,” Morris said.

The majority of the proposed increase — 77 percent — will go directly towards maintenance, construction and delivery system projects, Morris said.

Storms have also affected the company; a major storm in Southern Illinois in early May resulted in $30 million of damage to Ameren infrastructure and facilites, he said.

Some local politicians have raised concerns about the rate increase.

Champaign city council member Marci Dodds said the city would work to have the proposed rate increase reduced.

“We are certainly not thrilled about (this proposal),” Dodds said.

The council successfully lobbied to have the most recent rate increase reduced from the initial proposal and plans to do this again, she said.

Morris said Ameren has worked to straightforwardly inform customers of how rate increases will affect them, both through notifications on their monthly bills and on a website that will compute their personal rate increase.

“Unlike most businesses, we can’t simply increase our prices when costs go up. We’re filing for a rate increase to cover costs that we’ve already incurred and spent money on … it will help provide us with financial stability,” Morris said.