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Environmentalists Challenge Ameren At Rate Hearing

by Don Corrigan (SCT)

Ameren Missouri officials answered concerns about rates, fees, coal plants, green energy and climate change at a spirited public hearing in Sunset Hills City Hall on Jan. 16. The hearing was originally slated to take up the utility’s proposed rate changes.

Several residents were skeptical of the 0.03% monthly decrease Ameren Missouri is proposing in monthly bills that would translate into an average monthly decrease of about 3 cents. They said the decrease is far offset by hikes in fixed charges that the utility also is proposing.

Warren Wood, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for Ameren, said the rate decrease will provide a benefit to low-income residents who have poorly-insulated homes. They require more electricity use as a result, so a rate decrease has more impact than the fixed fee hike.

“We are proposing to drop rates for a decrease in electric service revenues by approximately $800,000,” said Wood.  “We are glad to continue to see our rates be more than 20% below Midwest and national averages.”

Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) officials held the public hearing in Sunset Hills. The PSC regulates investor-owned electric, natural gas, steam, water and sewer companies in the state.

Marc Poston, public counsel for the state PSC, told the audience that public testimony is extremely important as the commission determines whether the utilities’ rates are appropriate.

An evidentiary hearing will be held at the PSC offices in Jefferson City at 9 a.m. on March 2. Comments also can be sent by email at opcservice@ded.mo.gov and the PSC can be contacted at 800-392-4211.

At the Sunset Hills meeting, Poston provided attendees with a public counsel perspective on the proposal by Ameren Missouri. It advocated that Ameren’s customers should see a far greater rate reduction than what is being proposed.

The public counsel office noted a reduction by over $100 million for federal and state taxes that are no longer incurred by the utility. Also questioned was the legitimacy of more than $200 million in transactions between Ameren Missouri and its affiliates.

Environmental Issues

A number of attendees at the public meeting questioned Ameren Missouri’s reliance on coal-fired plants. They said the carbon emissions from the plants are contributors to climate change, global warming, increased flooding and health concerns.

“We have only two seasons in Missouri now,” said Rachel Speed of Fenton. “We have winter and summer. Summer goes into October now. We have times of flooding – I live on the Meramec. And we have times of drought. We know what is causing this.”

Ameren’s Wood noted that Ameren has a plan in place to reduce emissions from coal burning by 80% by 2050. He also said the plan includes phasing out the Meramec Power Plant off Telegraph Road in South County by 2022.

“We are concerned about a warming climate,” said Wood. “It is one of the reasons that we are encouraging energy conservation and energy efficiency for residents’ homes.”

Patricia Schuba, who lives in the vicinity of Ameren Missouri’s Labadie Power Plant, said she is concerned about the storage of coal ash waste in flood plains and near rivers that flow by the electric-generating plants.

Wood said the utility is working to insure the safety and integrity of the sites used to store coal ash. He said they are built to avoid leakage or contamination problems.

Environmental groups criticized Ameren’s dependence on coal at the meeting and argued that between 2016 and 2018, Ameren’s St. Louis area coal plants lost $347 million compared to market energy prices.

“Ameren is forcing ratepayers and shareholders to go along with its risky gamble on coal and the market has spoken – coal costs us all,” said Andy Knott of the Sierra Club in a statement for the meeting. “Ratepayers should not be footing the bill to pay for these expensive coal plants when investment in renewables save money for ratepayers in our neighboring states.”

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