Ameren Illinois customers will be paying more for natural gas starting next week.
Residential customers who buy natural gas from the Ameren Illinois utilities will be paying more, starting next week, because of the increasing worldwide demand for energy, according to company officials.
The cost of gas will rise by about 15 percent in June, Ameren officials said. That does not mean overall bills will go up by that amount, said Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris.
Rather, he said, the 15 percent figure applies only to the natural gas commodity, which appears on bills as the "gas charge" or "PGA" and makes up about two-thirds of the typical bill.
Ameren Illinois buys natural gas from gas producers throughout the United States. The wholesale price of natural gas is not regulated. Ameren Illinois passes along the cost of natural gas to its customers, without any price markup.
A separate charge for delivery of natural gas also appears on bills, and that could be going up, too, depending on the outcome of a case before the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The Ameren Illinois utilities, which serve much of downstate, and Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison separately have asked the ICC to approve an increase in their delivery rates. Ameren’s request for a $247 million hike would mean higher bills for all of the company’s residential electricity customers and some of its natural gas customers.
The ICC is expected to decide on the Ameren case in the fall. Any increases in delivery rates would take effect a few weeks later.
Morris said Ameren recalculates the natural gas charge for its three companies - AmerenCIPS, AmerenCILCO and AmerenIP -- each month. What will happen after June isn’t known, he said.
"That could remain unchanged for July," he added. "It could in theory go down for July. It could in theory go up for July."
Similarly, it’s too soon to be making predictions about natural gas prices for the 2008-09 heating season, he said.
Natural gas prices spiked for a while after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, disrupting the production and transportation of natural gas.
"That was short term, and it was a very temporary situation," Morris said.
The present situation is different because there is no problem with production of natural gas, he said, adding: "The problem is demand is moving upward. There doesn’t seem to be any abatement of that."
Morris said customers can take steps to conserve energy and keep their bills as low as possible. More information is available at www.ameren.com.
Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the utility watchdog group Citizens Utility Board, said the increased cost of natural gas "just re-emphasizes the point that this is horrible timing for Ameren to be asking for a $247 million rate hike."
He also said there are "serious questions" about possible market manipulation by natural gas producers, traders and marketers.
Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or email@example.com.