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Hearing on gas rate increase draws opposition

Thursday, January 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:44 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

About 30 people crowded into the Higher Education Center on Walnut Street on Wednesday to weigh in on a proposed statewide rate increase for natural gas service for Ameren UE customers.

Ameren UE wants the Missouri Public Service Commission to approve a rate increase that would cost Columbia’s customers an average of about $10 more per month. The company said it needs the increase to recover infrastructure costs incurred since 2003. The proposed increase would bring in almost $11 million from Ameren UE customers statewide.

The hearing, presided over by Regulatory Law Judge Cully Dale and attended by two members of the commission, was a three-way videoconference among sites in Columbia, Rolla and Jefferson City.

Nine of the 10 ratepayers from Columbia who testified said they oppose the proposed rate increase because it would be a burden on low-income ratepayers and people on fixed incomes.

Virginia Bzdek presented a statement from Grass Roots Organizing, signed by 22 of its approximately 400 members across mid-Missouri.

“Our members and families of low income cannot afford any more rate increases,” Bzdek said. “We ask the PSC to work diligently to create programs to provide services based on residents’ ability to pay and also strive to decrease the energy costs to all Missouri customers.”

Judy Schoendorf testified that she didn’t think it was fair for Ameren’s customers to pay for inefficiencies that she thinks contributed to higher infrastructure costs incurred by the company. Schoendorf recalled watching Ameren contractors rebuild a three-mile stretch of pipeline along Providence Boulevard between Hinkson Creek and Green Meadows Road from October of 2005 through March 2006.

“When it goes over budget, someone has to pay for it,” Schoendorf said. “I don’t think it’s fair that we have to pay for capital improvements.”

Ameren UE spokesman Mike Cleary said the company has invested more than $40 million to upgrade and extend gas mains and pipelines. Currently, he said, Columbia residents on average spend $126.10 month for gas service.

“We sympathize with (ratepayers),” Cleary said. “Their complaints are largely economic-related.”

The Missouri Public Service Commission last approved a rate increase for AmerenUE three years ago. The

company is seeking permission to increase revenue from natural gas service by 18.3 percent to recover the $11 million. However, the staff of the Missouri Public Service Commission is recommending the rate hike be held to a rate that would bring in between $2.2 million and $3.4 million.

The commission has until June to make a ruling on Ameren UE’s request. Public hearings will be held around the state through Jan. 12. Ratepayers and others can also offer testimony through the mail. Comments, with reference to case number GR-2007-0003, can be mailed to the Missouri Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 360, Jefferson City, MO 65201. For more information, go to www.psc.mo.gov/.


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