Posted: Aug 2, 2012 2:52 PM by Matt Noonan
Updated: Aug 2, 2012 10:50 PM
JEFFERSON CITY - Jefferson City residents are speaking out against a proposed utility rate increase from Ameren Missouri. If approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission, Ameren customers could see their utility bill increase about 14 percent.
In response to the proposed rate increase, the PSC has scheduled 13 public hearings around the state to listen to potential concerns of Missoui residents. Nearly 100 people attended a hearing Monday night at the Governor Office Building in Jefferson City. An overwhelming majority were against the rate increase.
"I suspect they can't come up with 5 people in there who would defend their request for increased rates," Jefferson City resident Barbara Ross said.
Retired teacher Michael Brownstein said the proposed rate increase would take a toll on his budget. "I got my fixed income, and I thought I could live easily down here. I never knew that my utility bills and doctor bills would be so high," Brownstein said.
Ameren Missouri contends the rate increases are necessary to increase efficiency and reliability. On Wednesday the company announced it will spend $147 million on energy efficiency programs over the next three years. "We're having to up our game in the reliability area, at the same time we're making significant investments in aging infrastructure, and complying with environmental regulations," Ameren Missouri Vice President of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Warren Wood said. "Over the last 2 months of extraordinary weather, we've been very pleased with the reliability of our power plants. We haven't had any threats of any sort of shortages in power in the region despite a really extraordinary heat wave."
But many Jefferson City residents aren't impressed. "They think they can just gloss it over, with numbers that will just glaze everybody's eyes over and be way over our heads. But people know we can't afford it," Ross said.
Wood says Ameren Missouri will also invest $3 million into energy assistance programs to help customers struggling to make payments.
"We realize this rate increase could cause some challenges for some of our customers," Wood said. "We hope our customers will take an opportunity to participate in those programs if they're feeling challenged right now."
That hasn't tempered concerns about the proposed rate increase. "I don't trust them, because I don't see how they drew the numbers. And I won't trust them until their CEOs actually say 'We will give back to the community out of our salary, out of our compensation.' I would appreciate seeing that," Brownstein said.
The next public hearing in mid-Missouri is scheduled for August 26 in Mexico. The PSC has until January to make a final decision on the proposed rate increase.