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Senate Takes Up Energy Surcharge Bill Today

Retired St. Louis teacher paying bills         Courtesy: AARP
Retired St. Louis teacher paying bills Courtesy: AARP
February 5, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri state senators take up a bill today that would make it easier for utilities to raise electric rates. Senate Bill 207 allows utilities to automatically increase rates by up to 10 percent a year through a surcharge.

According to supporters, the bill removes what they call "unnecessary regulatory barriers" that discourage system upgrades.

But Craig Eichelman, state director of AARP Missouri, sees it differently.

"This circumvents a process that's already in place that ensures families, retirees, all consumers are paying fair rates," he said.

Currently utilities are required to request rate hikes through the Missouri Commerce Commission. Hearings are held, and after several months it's decided whether the increase is needed and whether it's fair to consumers.

Officials of electrical utility Ameren have said the bill will speed up the process in upgrading the "smart grid."

Eichelman, however, said that when it comes to rate hikes, for consumers faster is not better.

"We just think it's a terrible thing. It's a rip-off for consumers," he charged.

The bill allows the commission to review the surcharges at the end of the year. But Eichelman said that without a full rate request, a review at the end of the year does not give consumer groups enough time for a full analysis.

An analysis by the consumer group Fair Energy Rate Action Fund said that if this bill had passed five years ago, it would have cost Missouri consumers $200 million more than they've already paid.

An AARP study on utility surcharges is at tinyurl.com/bms939p.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO