Metro East utility rates are going up and residents want Ameren to help with the cost
COLLINSVILLE — Metro East environmental justice organizers are calling on Ameren Illinois to shield the region’s most vulnerable residents from increasing utility costs.
Starting this month, the utility company said the bill for the typical Metro East customer will rise $52 a month or $626 a year because the cost of generating power is much higher.
Ameren Illinois has stressed that it doesn’t generate the power it supplies to its customers, and said that it won’t profit from the increases to utility bills. The company cites global market issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, post-pandemic demand and higher natural gas prices as reasons for the increase.
Still, local organizers want to see the utility do more to help residents in the Metro East, especially for families whose budgets are already strapped, said J.D. Dixon, an environmental justice organizer with United Congregations of Metro East.
“It’s going to force them to have to choose between keeping their energy on during Illinois' extreme hot summer weather and paying for groceries,” he said Thursday at a rally outside Ameren Illinois' office in Collinsville with several organizations to highlight the issue. “We all know how Illinois’ heat and humidity gets.”
Dixon emphasized many residents who will be most affected by the higher utility cost live in East St. Louis and other majority-Black Metro East communities.
“We are out here for the people,” he said. “We are out here for the families that will be affected by this increase.”
A spokesman for Ameren said that for the past several months the company has been urging its income-qualified customers to apply for funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The company has a web page dedicated to resources available to customers.
“In addition, we are finalizing details on a relief package that will provide Ameren shareholder funded bill payment assistance to moderate-income customers who do not typically meet income qualifications for existing state and federally-funded grants; plus, military members, and small business and non-profit organizations who need help with their utility bills,” according to a statement from the company.
Wyvetta Granger, who directs Community Lifeline in East St. Louis, noted many families in that community and across the Metro East are already struggling with increasing costs for groceries, medicine and other essentials. Higher utilities adds to that stress, she said.
“Most low-income families use a large percentage of their income to pay for their utilities,” Granger said. “It’s rent and utilities, those are the two primary concerns for them.”
To Granger, it’s about more than staying cool in the summer heat, she said. Residents with asthma and diabetes need electricity to effectively manage those conditions, Granger explained.
“When we look at a child or an adult that may be facing diabetes, which we know there are high instances of diabetes in our community, then you’re looking at their insulin not being able to be cooled properly,” she said.
Organizers also want to see Ameren Illinois take a more active role in the community and understanding of the hardships residents there face, said Zach Chike, a community pastor with City of Joy Fellowship in East St. Louis.
“There’s a history you have to acknowledge,” he said. “You have to be aware of how we’ve been impacted. There’s been cycles of poverty that existed in our community for far too long and pushed upon Black people.”
Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio. He previously covered the Metro East.