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Higher utility bills have Ameren customers hot under the collar

By: Laura Nightengale |

Rising temps and utility rates have some consumers in central Illinois feeling the heat during the time of year when electricity use is as its peak.

Consumers have taken to social media, most notably to Ameren Illinois’s Facebook page, voicing outrage about what they claimed are steep and unexpected increases. But it doesn’t seem that any single factor is driving up bills. Rather, as Jim Chilsen, communications director of the Citizen’s Utility Board said, it is a conglomeration of costs “that could all lead to a perfect summer storm.”

Electric bills consist of charges from two categories, delivery, or the cost of maintaining the poles, wires and other infrastructure that brings power to your home, and supply, the actual cost for the electricity used.

Both increased in June. Coupled with the hottest time of the year, when consumers generally use more electricity on things like air conditioning, the result is higher bills.

“It looks like what is happening this summer is consumers may be seeing an increase on the supply side of the bill along with an increase on the delivery side of the bill, and on top of that we’re in the part of the year where people use more electricity,” Chilsen said.

For the delivery part of the bill, Ameren asked last year to increase those rates, which was approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission to help fund infrastructure upgrades. These charges, which usually account for between one-third and one-half of a bill, also vary seasonally.

Beginning in January, customers went from paying 2.247 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 800,000 kWh used and 0.898 cents/kWh after that to 2.770 cents/kWh for the first 800,000 kWh and 1.485 cents per additional kWh. But they would have noticed a much larger bump in their bill when summer delivery rates kicked in June 1, pushing delivery rates to 4.727 cents/kWh, a nearly 19 percent increase over summer 2015 rates.

Even then, increased delivery rates were only projected to translate to an additional $2 to $7 per month for electric bills, and with similar hikes adding another $2 to $6 per month for natural gas. It’s also worth noting that Ameren’s current proposal for 2017 includes reducing this rate by about 3 percent for residential customers.

Almost simultaneously, supply rates increased, though these rates are not controlled by Ameren. (While Ameren bills for electricity, it doesn’t profit from supply charges. Those dollars are passed through to suppliers such as Homefield Energy.)

Many consumers in Illinois will receive supply charges at a municipal aggregation rate that is negotiated between public bodies and the supplier to offer fixed rates for several years at a time. The city of Peoria, along with many other local and municipal governments, struck a new deal with slightly higher rates that took effect June 1.