UPDATE: Ameren to seek rate increase

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 10:46 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Ameren Corp. is seeking a new rate increase in both Missouri and Illinois, citing rising operating and financing costs.

The move, announced Tuesday, comes on the heels of recent increases in both states totaling more than $320 million combined. St. Louis-based AmerenUE provides electricity to 2.4 million customers in the two states.

Ameren Chief Executive Gary Rainwater said the company will file for higher rates in late spring or early summer in Illinois. He didn't specify when the rate increase would be sought in Missouri.

Ameren officials didn't say how much of a rate increase they would seek in either state.

"I can assure that it's going to be a small amount," spokesman Leigh Morris said.

In late January, the Missouri Public Service Commission approved a $163 million rate increase, a bump of 8.1 percent. It is expected to take effect March 1. The average customer's bill will go up $70 annually.

And in September, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a $161 million increase.

Rainwater, in a conference call with investors, said those increases weren't enough.

"Rising operating and financing costs are still resulting in a regulatory lag in Illinois and Missouri," Rainwater said, citing the recession, lower customer usage and higher financing costs.

Ameren was also hit hard by the ice storm that struck southern Missouri late last month. More than 1,000 utility poles were downed, many of them Ameren's. The company sent hundreds of workers to the region to get power restored.

On the Illinois side, Jim Chilsen, spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board in Chicago, told the Belleville News-Democrat his group would likely challenge the rate hike proposal once it is filed.

"We find Ameren's comments disturbing and disappointing," Chilsen said. "We don't believe they deserve that rate hike. ... We're going to fight it."

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