Consumers “need to make their voices heard” during upcoming public hearings on Ameren Illinois’ request for a $247 million rate hike, said state Rep. Bob Flider, who called the proposed increase “way too much.”

Consumers “need to make their voices heard” during upcoming public hearings on Ameren Illinois’ request for a $247 million rate hike, said state Rep. Bob Flider, who called the proposed increase “way too much.”


The half-dozen hearings, which start Monday in Decatur, will enable consumers to tell state utility regulators about the hardship that a rate increase would cause, said Flider, D-Decatur. He joined officials from AARP and Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office at a state Capitol news conference Tuesday.


Ameren’s delivery-rate increase request is pending before the Illinois Commerce Commission, which scheduled the public hearings to collect comments from Ameren customers.


“There’s a lot of suffering going on,” Flider said. “There’s a lot of people who just can’t afford these high utility bills. The commissioners need to know that.”


Consumers should question the validity of the Ameren request because utility companies have “had some questionable judgment in the past,” he said, citing as an example the 2006 “reverse auction” that led to a dramatic increase in the price of electricity. Lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich later approved a rate-relief plan that eased, but didn’t eliminate, the impact of that increase.


Ameren’s pending proposal would translate to higher electricity and natural gas bills for most Ameren Illinois residential customers. The specifics would vary, depending on a customer’s energy usage and on whether he or she buys from AmerenCILCO, AmerenCIPS or AmerenIP.


Electric hikes would hit customers of AmerenIP the hardest. Overall average increases for electricity would be 8.5 percent for AmerenIP, 4.4 percent for AmerenCIPS and 2.9 percent for AmerenCILCO.


On the natural gas side, customers of AmerenIP and AmerenCIPS would see rate increases, while rates would drop slightly for customers of AmerenCILCO.


The ICC will decide later this year whether to grant the full Ameren request, part of it or none at all.


Ameren says it needs the increase because of rising costs for items such as power poles and because the Ameren Illinois companies must put up a better financial performance.


“Nobody likes higher rates. Nobody likes to pay more for milk at the grocery store,” Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said Tuesday. “But at the same time, we have to operate in a prudent, responsible way.”


The delivery-service charge, which makes up roughly one-third of a customer’s bill, is distinct from the wholesale costs of electricity or natural gas.


The Ameren Illinois companies provide electricity and natural gas service for much of downstate Illinois. Most residents of the city of Springfield receive electricity from the municipally owned City Water, Light and Power, but they buy natural gas from AmerenCILCO.


Madigan’s office has hired a team of experts to investigate the Ameren proposal, and staff lawyers also are reviewing it, said Janice Dale, chief of the public utilities bureau in the attorney general’s office.


“Attorney General Madigan doesn’t believe Ameren needs an extra $247 million to provide reliable electric and gas service, and she certainly doesn’t believe Ameren customers should have to pay it,” Dale said. “The attorney general is determined to oppose every unfair utility plan.”


Frank Price, an AARP volunteer who lives in Springfield, said it is “outrageous” for Ameren to seek higher rates.


“Electricity and gas are not luxuries,” Price said. “They’re basic necessities.”


AARP has set up what it calls an “energy rate hotline” that connects callers to the ICC. The toll-free number is 800-719-3020.


The public hearings are scheduled for:

7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, Decatur Public Library auditorium, 130 N. Franklin, Decatur.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, Marion City Council chambers, 1102 Tower Square, Marion.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, Belleville City Council chambers, 101 S. Illinois St., Belleville.

7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, Peoria City Hall, Room 400, 419 Fulton, Peoria.

7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, Quincy City Council chambers, 730 Maine St., Quincy.

7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, Champaign City Council chambers, 102 Neil St., Champaign.


Adriana Colindres can be reached at 217-782-6292 or