St. Louisans wishing to comment on the possibility of an increase in their electric bill will have two chances to speak with the Missouri agency that regulates investor-owned utilities Monday.
The Missouri Public Service Commission is holding a public hearing at noon at the Holiday Inn on Watson Road near Kirkwood and another at 6 p.m. at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley.
This is the sixth time Ameren Missouri has requested a rate increase since 2006. Prior to the first rate increase in 2007, Ameren had not requested a rate increase for more than 20 years. At that time, Ameren’s electric rate was less than $2 billion.
If the commission approves Ameren’s request in full, the company’s annual electric rate will increase by 9.65 percent for a total rate of about $3 billion a year.
The commission has granted Ameren’s previous five requests over the past eight years, but only in part.
Warren Wood, Ameren’s vice-president of communications, said that the increases are needed to off-set the cost of replacing aging infrastructure and complying with environmental regulations, and to pay for the rising cost of fuel.
“We know that any increases and expenses can be difficult. That’s one of the reasons we’re working to cut or control costs in other areas wherever we can. And as a result of those efforts our current rates are currently 17 percent below the Midwest average and below the rates of any other investor-owned utility in Missouri,” Wood said.
Fair Energy Rate Action Fund director Noel Torpey said that his organization is against the rate increase because senior citizens and businesses cannot afford it.
“It’s really important that people show up (to the public hearings) and tell (the commission) their side of the story — why it will hurt them,” Torpey said. “I mean with health care going up, and prescription drugs going up and wages not going up, and then utilities continuing obviously to climb at a ridiculous rate, they need to be able to tell the commission that, and tell them why they don’t want it to increase.”
Torpey noted that this latest rate increase would mean that Ameren's electric rate has increased by more than 50 percent in less than a decade.
"Nowhere else that I'm aware of has it gone up that much," Torpey said.
Wood said that Ameren's current electric rate costs less than it did in the 1990s once the rate was adjusted for inflation, and that the rate increase will cost the average household about t$10 more a month.
According to Wood, Ameren has accrued expenses replacing obsolete substations, paying solar power rebates, building a solar energy center, investing in clean air equipment and adding a new reactor head to the nuclear power plant in Callaway County.
In addition to listening to public comments, the commission will conduct an audit of Ameren’s finances and hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Ameren should receive the $264 million increase it has requested.
“The commission’s job is to set the rates of the investor-owned utilities such as Ameren Missouri,” said commission spokesman Gregg Ochoa. “And they do so by reviewing expenses that the company has made.”
The commission has until June 2015 to make a decision.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.