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Friday, February 18, 2011

Huge Rate Rollback Possible For Ameren Missouri Customers After 2 Court Orders Suspending Rate Increases

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Huge rate rollback possible for Ameren Missouri customers

BY JEFFREY TOMICH  
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Friday, February 18, 2011
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Ameren Missouri’s 1.2 million electric customers could see their rates rolled back by hundreds of millions of dollars as soon as next week after two different courts issued orders suspending rate increases granted by the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson issued the most recent ruling in late December. His order suspended a $226 million electric rate increase that was approved by the PSC on May 28.
The ruling didn’t take effect until Tuesday when four companies that belong to the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers – Anheuser-Busch, Noranda, Enbridge and Doe Run -- posted bonds totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The customer group and Missouri Public Counsel were the parties that challenged the rate increase in court.
Public Counsel Lewis Mills, who represents Missouri consumers, asked regulators on Wednesday to comply with the court order and reset Ameren's rates. He asked that the commission act by Feb. 23.
Only the PSC can change Ameren's tariffs, the actual rates that the utility charges its customers.
If the commission approves the request, it could undo not only the 2010 rate increase that was challenged in Cole County, but also a 2009 increase that was appealed to circuit court in Pemiscot County.
The judge in Pemiscot County had earlier ruled that the PSC erred in granting Ameren a $163 million rate increase in January 2009. That ruling is now before the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District.
Because Ameren's 2010 rate increase was suspended and the legitimacy of the 2009 rate increase is being litigated, Ameren’s 2007 electric rates are the last valid rates that haven’t been stayed or suspended by the courts, according to Wilson's order.
Ameren officials declined to discuss the matter. In a prepared statement, spokeswoman Rita Holmes-Bobo said the utility would “vigorously defend” its position.
She declined to elaborate, but did say the utility disputes that Wilson’s order applies to all Ameren Missouri customers.
Even if the PSC does roll back Ameren's rates,  Mills said the move would only be retroactive to Feb. 15 -- the date the industrial customers posted bonds making Wilson's order effective. That's because Ameren's rates were considered valid until that date under Missouri law.

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