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AmerenUE 'Pure Power' customers may not know where dollars go

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | 6:20 p.m. CST; updated 7:38 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ST. LOUIS — AmerenUE's Pure Power program is under scrutiny again by the Missouri Public Service Commission, whose staff believes its customers don't know what they're getting for premiums paid to support renewable energy development.

PSC staff said they're concerned that many of the 6,000 AmerenUE customers who opt to pay an extra monthly fee on their electric bill to support renewable energy development don't know how little actually supports it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported for Tuesday's editions.

PSC said less than half of the money is spent on renewable energy certificates, or RECs. The rest goes to a San Francisco-based administrator's marketing, administration or profits. The staff said it fears that those customers — a small portion of the utility's 1.2 million customers — are being misled.

The PSC staff wants AmerenUE to make the breakdown more explicit in its promotional materials and Web site.

"People don't realize how little money is actually going for these green energy certificates," said Lena Mantle, manager of the PSC staff's energy department. "The customer has no idea how much is going to 3Degrees."

Mantle also said many customers believe they're getting actual electricity generated by green sources, when they're not.

But the administrator, 3Degrees Inc., said at least 75 percent of the renewable energy certificates will be purchased from wind projects and at least half will be in Missouri and Illinois.

The St. Louis-based utility launched Pure Power in 2007, giving customers the option of paying an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour on electricity purchases or premiums in $15 portions.

AmerenUE keeps $1 for every $15. The rest goes to 3Degrees Inc. to buy renewable energy certificates that subsidize clean energy projects to help them compete with fossil fuel sources.

Cindy Bambini of 3Degrees in St. Louis said the company has had to spend money on marketing because it's hard to explain how RECs are created, bought and sold. But she said the company has never implied that all $15 goes toward the purchase of RECs. She said prices vary by region, yet customers pay the same 1.5-cent premium per kilowatt-hour.

Customers can withdraw from the program at any time without a penalty.

"The whole program was structured so that 3Degrees bears the risk of the price of the REC," Bambini said.

Two years ago, PSC staff raised similar concerns and recommended the program be discontinued. The commission was satisfied with necessary fixes, including a new Pure Power Web site.

 


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