ACORN’s Wednesday protest about AmerenUE’s proposed 18 percent rate hike was unusual in the attention it attracted. When the ACORN folks get out on the sidewalk to rant about mortgage scams or banks that use bailout money to lobby against their own regulation, cars cruise silently by. Not so when it comes to the rate hike. As thirty protesters hiked up and down Chouteau Avenue in front of AmerenUE headquarters, yelling themselves hoarse:
Is tryin’ to
Hell no, 18 percent!
motorists honked often, and lots of semis and trucks emitted deep, mellow blasts. You see, mortgage scams are complicated, but a rate hike–and for 18 ever lovin’ percentage points–that’s right in everybody’s face. In the middle of this recession.
And it’s on top of the $162.6 million increase Ameren got last January.
But … but … we need (or anyway want) more money, says Ameren. After two major storms knocked out power for extended periods in 2007, we had to actually start trimming trees to prevent corporate officers from being tarred and feathered if it happened again. That costs money, and we’re only making about eight percent profit a year. Maybe some folks think that since we get to be a monopoly, we should be satisfied with a little less than that, but how are we going to trim the CEO’s oriental rugs in ermine if we take less?
(Just kidding. I’m sure Thomas Voss knows that ermine would be tacky on his oriental rugs.)
But what chutzpah to ask at all in this shambles of an economy. Any kind of rate hike will drive more people to be unable to pay their Ameren bills. Many of them will end up having to get government assistance from the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance program. So? says Ameren. If poor people can’t pay, let the taxpayers take up the slack. But we need our eight percent profit.
Glenn Burleigh, the St. Louis district director of ACORN, hoots at their hardship. In what other business, he wants to know, does a company get to go back to customers after it has sold them a product and say, we’d really like to charge you more for what you already bought. We had some extra expenses that came up later. Burleigh says, and most consumers agree, that they should have been trimming those trees all along instead of trimming their costs and padding their bottom line.
AmerenUE knows, of course, that it ain’t getting an 18 percent rate hike. The company asked for an outrageous raise so that it can look reasonable when it lets itself get bargained down to something merely excessive. Or failing that–should the public pressure be strong enough to get the PSC to rule against the utility company along about next March–the fallback plan is probably to appeal to the legislature to pass that moronic CWIP bill so it can fold this rate increase into the bill for future utility construction projects.
If it comes to that point, we’ll see if legislators are willing to put themselves on the line for AmerenUE and against the residential and corporate customers who’ll raise a stink.
One way or another, I’m sure Ameren will push hard, but the pressure from the rest of us will create a New Madrid fault. Too many of Ameren’s customers will see it like Luedale Beck: