Ameren, the electric and gas utility, is seeking $130 million in increased rates from its Illinois customers.
While no one likes to pay more bills, it's understandable that a company might raise prices if it's struggling. But Ameren's doing just the opposite: last year, it recorded a 150 percent increase in profits from its Illinois customers.
State Rep. John Bradley, whose southern Illinois district is primarily served by Ameren, made no bones about his opposition to the hike. "Those workers who have managed to keep their jobs are facing cutbacks to their hours and benefits. For Ameren to ask these people to fund an increase so that their executives can see another year of growing profits is frankly appalling," he said to The Southern.
And Administrative Law Judge John D. Albers agrees. In his report on the proposed rate hike, Albers suggested that the company only be allowed to raise its rates by $56 million.
Some consumer advocacy groups weren't satisfied with the recommendation. "It's a step in the right direction," Citizens Utility Board Director David Kolata said. "But it doesn't go nearly far enough."
Ameren's most recent rate increase took effect in October 2008. That jump, plus lower maintenance costs and operating expenses, led to the Ameren Illinois's $127 million profit in 2009, more than double its $51 million total from the year before.
To blunt the negative perception of the proposed rate change, Ameren has launched a site, IllinoisRateFacts.com, with a friendly female narrator explaining why it's seeking a rate increase.
But the Herald-Review's editorial staff was unmoved by the inviting animations. In a critical if gently worded column, it wrote, "The financial results Ameren has experienced, especially in Illinois, seem to indicate that the utility's needs may already have been adequately addressed."
The Illinois Commerce Commission will make a final ruling on the rate case in April.
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