Economy
5:37 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

Consumer advocates criticize natural gas rate considerations

  Illinois legislators already passed a law that lets ComEd and Ameren charge higher rates for electricity.  Now, natural gas companies want the same treatment.  IPR’s Amanda Vinicky has more: 
 The argument for letting ComEd and Ameren hike electric rates was that it'll allow the companies to make needed updates to the electric grid. Consumer advocates balked at that; but they admit those upgrades could ultimately bring their customers savings.

 Not so, they say, in the case of natural gas.  Ameren - which covers much of downstate - as well as People's Gas and North Shore, in the Chicago area - say they too need a guarantee of automatic rate hikes to pay for upgrades to their systems.   Advocates say that has no benefit to customers. 

 AARP member Frank Price, of Springfield, says the companies are trying to bypass state regulators  ... so they can secure higher profits. "This is a way to circumvent a regulatory process. It's not just another avenue for trying to help a business make money.  It's an avenue for avoiding the need to justify their rate increases.  And they affect all of us, from Rockford to Cairo."

 But Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says Illinois' regulatory system is antiquated.  The proposed new method makes way for modernization : "Faster than we otherwise would.  But we're also going to be able to create approximately 250 or more new jobs." He says the average Ameren customer's heating costs will go up by $3.70 in the first year. That compounds every year so in a decade, consumers will see an additional $37 tacked onto their natural gas bill.