JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ameren Missouri electric customers will face a $260 million annual rate increase as a result of a decision Wednesday by utility regulators, though some of that extra money could be returned to them in savings through new energy efficiency incentives.
The rate hike, scheduled to take effect in January, marks the fifth time in the past six years that rates will have risen for the 1.2 million customers of Missouri's largest utility. Monthly bills will go up by about $10 for an average residential customer using about 1,100 kilowatts of electricity, according to the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Commission members voted 3-1 Wednesday for the rate increase, which amounts to about two-thirds of the $376 million that Ameren originally requested last February. Though a majority of commissioners described it as "reasonable," consumer advocates said the $260 million price hike is too much for residents to bear in the current economy.
"Rates have been going up by leaps and bounds for the last five years," said state Public Counsel Lewis Mills, Missouri's official consumer advocate in utility regulatory cases. "It's going to put a real headlock on a lot of customers."
The rate increase is intended to cover such things as Ameren's fuel costs, infrastructure improvements, vegetation trimming, storm repairs and employee benefits. Additionally, about $89 million of the rate hike would help pay for energy efficiency incentives that ultimately could save money for some residents and businesses. A 2009 law allows utilities to recoup money for efficiency measures, just as they long have done for investments in power plants and other capital expenses.
The result is that all of Ameren's electric customers will shoulder a share of the cost for the utility to provide incentives for some businesses or homeowners to lower their utility bills through more efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems. But all consumers stand to benefit if the energy savings push back the need for Ameren to build costly new power plants, said utility regulators.
"Our hope is that this report and order not only gives customers the chance to save, but it means that Ameren is not going to come in for another rate increase next year or the year after," said PSC Chairman Kevin Gunn. "So we bring some rate stability to the customers."
Warren Wood, Ameren's vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs, said the St. Louis-based utility has not decided whether it will seek another rate increase in the near future and is still reviewing the commission's 120-page decision.