JEFFERSON CITY - Many Missourians who saved money on their electric bill due to the mild summer could end up paying more in the future if the state's biggest electric utility gets its way.
Because of the cool weather, AmerenUE reports a decline in electric demand -- no doubt caused by reduced air conditioning use. The company says it has not yet calculated the precise decline.
In the meantime, AmerenUE has filed a request for a temporary rate increase.
Low customer demand due to the mild summer is not a factor in AmerenUE's latest rate increase requests, sad AmerenUE spokesperson Mike Cleary.
An inreasing debt resulting from improvement projects put AmerenUE in a place where they felt an interim rate increase was necessary before a decision was made on the general, Cleary said.
Before the state's utility-regulating Public Service Commission is a request to allow a 1.7 percent interim rate increase -- pending the PSC's decision on its request for a general rate increase of 18 percent that had been filed back in July.
The PSC has delayed a hearing until Dec. 7 on the interim increase.
A decision on AmerenUE's larger, general rate-increase request will be made some time in March, commission spokesman Kevin Kelly said.
Wess Henderson, executive director of the commission, said interim rate increases were previously only granted on an emergency basis. "The burden of proof that this is an emergency is on Ameren," Henderson said.
Lewis Mills, Public Counsel for the state, opposes the interim increase. Mills' office represents customers in utility cases.
The committee's previous standard to consider increases only in an emergency was necessary so utilities do not end up bankrupt, Mills said. AmrenUE is not even close to bankrupt, they're just not making enough profit, Mills said.
The committee's decision to consider the interim rate increase is a surprise, said Mills, adding that last week it looked as if the PSC would reject the increase.
AmerenUE undertook a number of projects this year to increase reliability, Cleary said, including moving lines underground and additional inspection of current lines. Borrowing money in order to fund these projects, AmerenUE now finds itself taking a longer time than expected paying back these loans due to decreased revenues from lower customer demand this summer. The higher borrowing costs has lowered AmerenUE's credit rating, Cleary said.
Stock prices of Ameren Corporation, a publicly traded company that includes AmerenUE, are down almost 30 percent from their 52 week high.
Citing Security and Exchange Commission rules, Ameren declined comment on whether a lower credit rating is affecting stock prices.
By comparison, two of Missouri's other large electric companies - Empire District Electric and Kansas City Power and Light (a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy) - both are down about 10 percent over the same period. Both companies also declined comment, citing SEC rules.
A 16.1 percent increase took effect for Kansas City Power and Light customers in September, Kelly said. The increase was due to increased air quality investments, new generation resources and operating costs according to a fact sheet prepared by the company.
Empire has not requested a rate increase, spokeswoman Julie Maus said.
The energy rate increase in Columbia that took effect Oct. 1 is separate from AmerenUE's requested increase, said Connie Kacprowicz, a spokesperson for Columbia Power and Light. Columbia's increased rates are due to an increase in power supply costs, Kacprowicz said. Columbia Power and Light receives energy from Ameren Energy in Illinois, a separate entity from AmerenUE.