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      AmerenUE seeks 12 percent rate hike

      Ameren wants to increase what it charges by 12.1 percent.

      It's been only eighteen months since the last rate adjustment, b ut AmerenUE is back before the Public Service Commission to ask for another increase in what it can charge consumers of electricity.

      In May of last year, when the PSC awarded AmerenUE just $43 million in new revenues against a request for more than $360 million.

      Everyone knew the company would be back sooner rather than later.

      "The company has worked very hard and endeavored to put a reasonable request before you," Ameren attorney Jim Lowery told commissioners as the rate hearing opened.

      Ameren now wants to increase what it charges for electricity by 12.1 percent, which costs another $251 million.

      That would boost the average consumer's bill by about $8.66 a month.

      The company cites increases in operating costs, raw fuel and purchased power expenses, and a need to guarantee investors a competitive rate.

      "Those three items," explained Lowery, "Are absolutely critical to providing the company, the cash flows, and financial strength that it's going to need to invest in its system."

      The PSC staff says Ameren's numbers are way off the mark.

      The staff has lowered the company's request for fuel compensation by $12 million. The request to recover tree-trimming expenses was lowered by $20 million, and the payout to stockholders was lowered to $70 million.

      "Many of the households represented by those 1.2 million customers of Ameren's are facing difficult times, challenged by job loss, by rising costs of food," cautioned PSC staff attorney Kevin Thompson.

      Public Counsel Lewis Mills added, "In the event that this commission awards too much of an increase to AmerenUE, some of those households that Mr. Thompson talked about will no longer be in households. They won't be able to afford electricity."

      The commission staff thinks Ameren deserves an increase of no more than $70 million.

      The hearings for ameren's rate increase request will continue over the next couple of weeks.