Consumer advocates fear Ameren Missouri rate hike would burden low-income customers
Ameren Missouri customers would have to pay more for service if state regulators approve a $316 million rate hike proposed by the utility.
The utility presented the rate increase to regulators last year. If the Missouri Public Service Commission endorses it, the average customer would have to pay about $12 more a month.
The hike wouldn’t go into effect until July. The utility needs the increase to pay for upgrades to its facilities as it shifts to renewable energy sources, Warren Wood, Ameren Missouri vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs said in a statement.
“Our goal is to keep rates as low as possible, while protecting long-term energy reliability and resiliency for our customers,” Wood said. “We work to meet the needs of our customers today while transitioning to a stronger, smarter, cleaner, more reliable and resilient grid for future generations.”
The Missouri Public Service Commission is holding a series of public hearings on the hike. It follows efforts by Missouri American Water to ask regulators to approve a $10 hike for customers across the state.
During a press conference Wednesday, a coalition of consumer advocates said Ameren’s proposal would financially strain customers, especially low-income people and veterans across the state. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Energy and Policy Institute and BailoutWatch found Ameren Missouri disconnected 53,100 customers between January and October last year.
Ameren Missouri offers several bill assistance programs for customers who are having trouble paying their bills.
Consumer advocates argue that more investment in bill assistance programs are critical as families deal with high inflation. They urge state officials to reject the rate hike and stop Ameren from disconnecting service for late payments. They also want the utility to prioritize energy efficient programs to help reduce customer bills and invest in more bill assistance programs.
“Folks are telling us, $12, we can't afford $5, we've been disconnected already,” said Shuron Jones, tenants bill of rights organizer for Homes for All St. Louis, an affordable housing advocacy group. “We've already been charged late fees, we're already behind on rent as it is because wages are stagnant, rents are going up and utility costs are going up, especially for those who are utility and energy burdened.”
Jones said low-income customers are increasingly finding it hard to pay for utilities as federal coronavirus relief funds for housing assistance programs end. Applications for Missouri’s State Assistance for Housing Relief program ended last month, and Jones worries some applicants still might not receive aid.
Consumer advocates said residents also have to pay an extra surcharge to reconnect to power and that people who rely on Section 8 housing are at a greater risk of losing their homes if they lose their power. The Missouri Veterans Endeavor, which helps homeless veterans transition to permanent housing, pays a utility bill for veterans and helps them transition to permanent housing.
Since last summer, the organization has seen a 25% increase in veterans who need permanent housing, said Bill Wallace, president and CEO of Missouri Veterans Endeavor.
“In our case, 95% of the homeless veterans and veteran families referred to us come to us with a utility debt that is oftentimes insurmountable,” Wallace said. “For a person or a head of household to enter into a lease or secure a mortgage, they must be able to have utilities in their own names.”