‘Simply unconscionable’: Advocates push Ameren to keep electric bills low during pandemic

Ameren filed for a nearly $300 million rate increase, which would add $12 to the average customer’s bill

By: - September 8, 2021 2:36 pm

Ameren Missouri is seeking a rate increase worth nearly $300 million. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Ameren Missouri should not increase its electrical rates for its customers as they struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, a coalition of environmental, veterans and tenants advocates said Wednesday. 

The St. Louis-based utility filed with regulators in March seeking a rate increase worth nearly $300 million per year to pay for renewable energy projects, grid enhancement and various programs. Ameren Missouri’s 1.2 million electrical customers would see their bills increase by an average of $12 per month.

The rate hike must be approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission before taking effect next year. The agency’s staff earlier this month recommended Ameren be approved for a smaller, $221.4 million increase. 

But on the heels of a pandemic and ongoing economic fallout, advocacy groups say it’s “simply unconscionable” for Ameren to increase rates. 

“No one should have to choose between keeping their lights on or putting food on the table, and that’s what it’s come down to for many families,” said Lora Gulley, director of community mobilization and advocacy at Generate Health, which works to improve Black maternal health.

In a statement, Tara Oglesby, vice president of customer experience at Ameren, acknowledged the financial challenges many families are facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the utility delayed the filing of its rate increase case for that reason. 

Oglesby said Ameren has been investing in its critical infrastructure that its “communities so depend on.” 

“And as the communities we serve and our customers continue to face challenges associated with the pandemic, we’ve also been working to reduce our expenses to keep costs as low as possible for our customers while building a stronger, smarter and cleaner energy system for our customers,” Oglesby said. 

According to data filed with the PSC, Ameren reported nearly 26,000 disconnections for households that had failed to pay their bills between January and July. At the end of the July billing cycle, more than 209,000 households were behind on their bills. 

Gulley and fellow advocates released a list of demands in a news conference Wednesday, pushing Ameren to adopt more protections for low-income customers, cease cutting off power to those who don’t pay and refrain from increasing rates or fixed monthly charges. 

Oglesby said the company has money and support for those who need it, including grants, flexible payment options and access to community assistance funding, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. She said the company would also share information this fall about more programs for customers in need. 

The PSC is taking testimony from various consumer and environmental groups and will hold public hearings this fall. 

Ameren customers in need of assistance can visit AmerenMissouri.com/EnergyAssistance.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.

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