Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reconsidering rebate

Shortly after the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a plan Monday to reimburse some Ameren Illinois customers for high electricity bills, the utility began reconsidering that proposal because Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the utility’s credit rating to junk status. That makes it more expensive for Ameren to borrow money, says spokesman Leigh Morris. “But it creates tremendous problems for the company and it puts at risk all of the programs we have in play.”

Currently at risk is Ameren’s latest plan to spend $20 million (using $10 million of its own money and borrowing the other $10 million) to reimburse customers who use a lot of electricity, mainly residents who use only electricity to heat their homes. The plan also would stop charging interest on the customers who have chosen to phase in their rate increases over three years. As of Tuesday morning, Morris says Ameren still hasn’t declared whether it would take the plan off the table.

But in its March 7 filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission, Ameren warns the $20 million plan would end if its credit rating status were downgraded to junk.

The utility, which serves 1.2 million electric customers downstate, and the Illinois Commerce Commission have been under scrutiny for increases in electricity rates since a 10-year rate freeze expired in January. Ameren’s all-electric customers have gotten bills that have increased an average of 90 percent to 150 percent over last year’s rates. Lawmakers are still trying to move legislation to return all electricity rates to their 2006 level, when rates were frozen. The pending legislation was a factor in Moody’s decision to downgrade the utility’s credit rating.

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