Downstate lawmakers question rising Ameren energy prices

A sign outside the Ameren Illinois operating center in Springfield.
A sign outside the Ameren Illinois operating center in Springfield.(Mike Miletich)
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 6:58 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Ameren Illinois customers received an email Wednesday warning about higher prices on the horizon this summer. State lawmakers had the opportunity to ask energy leaders why this is happening and what they could do to help Thursday.

“The primary reason you will see an increase in your monthly bill is because of the increase in the electric supply costs, which are collected on your utility bill and paid directly to power generators,” the utility wrote to customers. “Ameren Illinois does not profit from these charges.”

Jim Blessing, the vice president of regulatory policy and energy supply, told lawmakers this hike was caused by inflation, the Russian war in Ukraine, and coal plants closing.

Ameren customers can expect a $58 increase from June to September. They will also pay $49 more during the non-summer months. 1.2 million customers will be impacted by the hike that could cost $430 more annually.

“A customer who uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year will see a $626 annualized increase on the power supply side of their bill or an increase of approximately $52 per month,” Blessing said.

A typical customer will also pay an extra $150 dollars annually for capacity or roughly $13 per month.

Blessing explained the impact will be even more severe for people using electric heat and commercial industrial users. He also stressed that the company does not generate power or have any control over the price of supply. Blessing said the cost set by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Illinois Power Agency are passed directly on to customers without marking it up for profit.

Many people are already preparing for the possibility of brownouts and blackouts. Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) has a generator for backup power on his farm, but he knows that many homeowners don’t have that option.

“I had to spend close to $20,000 last week to make sure that my livestock will be able to survive if I’m not there to turn on the generator,” Meier said. “All of our small businesses and our farms are going to have to do that because we’re living in a state where we’ve taken our destiny away from ourselves.”

Experts from MISO Energy say there is a gap between when fossil fuel facilities close and when there is enough replacement capacity online to power communities.

“We’re seeing a lot more retirements coming quicker, for whatever reason, than we’re seeing generation be able to get online,” said Melissa Seymour, vice president of external affairs for MISO. “The gap could be filled with numerous things. It could be filled with wind and solar. It could be filled with hydrogen in the future.”

Seymour says MISO believes it will become worse before it gets better. Several downstate lawmakers have been telling Democratic leaders that Illinois needed to prepare for this type of crisis over the past several years.

“Our constituents are worried, and they should be worried,” said Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton). “Reliability is the most important factor. It means nothing if we don’t have reliability.”

The Pritzker administration announced Thursday that recipients of funding from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program will receive an additional $200 this summer to help with the higher costs. But people must apply for LIHEAP benefits by Tuesday.

Ameren is also finalizing a relief package for moderate-income customers who usually aren’t eligible for state and federal aid.

“No one should have to live without a way to heat, cool, and prepare meals in their home,” said Angelica Gower, the executive director of Women of Destiny. “No one should have to decide if they will pay their light and gas bill versus purchasing medication, deciding if they should or should not seek medical attention.”

You can click here for resources to manage Ameren bills. People interested in utility assistance through LIHEAP must apply in person at a local administering agency that you can find here. People can also call 833-711-0374 for help and more information about LIHEAP.

“Access to energy is a basic necessity and my administration is working tirelessly to ensure families can afford rising costs,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “As energy prices continue to skyrocket across the nation, we are providing an extra $200 in relief to our most vulnerable residents.”

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