Forum to question Ameren rate boost

By Sarah Small

In response to the rate increase request filed by Ameren in November, the Illinois Commerce Commission is hosting a forum to educate residents about the potential rate adjustment, and to give them a chance to respond.

The forum will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday night at the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St., and will give Ameren customers the floor to address their concerns about the utility’s request that would result in $247 million in additional revenue.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson is urging her constituents to attend.

“I would hope that members of the (commission) would listen to the people who have come out,” Jakobsson said. “I believe that the (commission) will take their statements seriously.”

In addition to Jakobsson, the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, is working to publicize the meeting. To inform residents they produced fliers, e-mailed members and posted meeting information on their Web site.

“We firmly believe that Ameren does not deserve all that they’re asking for,” said J.J. Babb, Citizens Utility Board spokesperson.

Ameren, the primary energy utility for the Champaign-Urbana area, attributes the increase in rates to the need for a higher delivery cost.

“The review is essential for Ameren utilities to improve and fulfill all obligations in a safe, reliable and cost efficient manner,” said Leigh Morris, Ameren spokesperson.

The entire process of reviewing a request for a rate increase takes about 11 months to complete. The final order on the price adjustment will be issued around Sept. 30, Morris said. If the rates are increased, customers can expect to see changes in their bills as early as October 2008.

If the commission does approve Ameren’s request to increase their rates, the exact amount that a customer’s bill would increase by may vary from household to household depending on how much energy each house uses, Morris said.

“It’s really an issue for all of us because we all pay electric and natural gas rates whether you’re renting or you live in the dorms,” Babb said.

This series of forums, which are giving residents in six cities across Central Illinois the chance to speak with the energy supply company, are being held in accordance with a state law passed last summer, Jakobsson said. The law required that Ameren, which had increased their rates in 2007, return their energy rates to what they were in 2006. This law also required that Ameren issue refunds and credits to customers, and that they file a petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission if they wanted to increase rates in the future.

“This forum is a chance to be heard,” Babb said.

Residents unable to attend Thursday’s forum can still place their comment with the Illinois Commerce Commission by going to the Citizens Utility Board Web site, citizensutilityboard.org, and clicking “file a comment.”