End of rate freeze burns local residents

By Gus Bode

Toya Walton is feeling the heat.

Since the freeze on Illinois electricity rates expired, Walton said her electricity bill at her Logan Avenue apartment has more than doubled and she has become unusually reluctant to turn on her air conditioner.

Her electricity bill was a heavy enough burden before the increase, Walton said.

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“It keeps us pretty broke,” she said.

Walton is one of many southern Illinoisans preparing for a summer of higher electricity bills due to an Ameren CIPS rate hike that occurred after the expiration of a 10-year rate freeze in January. When Ameren announced the increase, the company warned customers their bills could increase 40 to 50 percent.

Since the freeze expired, some citizen groups and state politicians have called for a new freeze to relieve Illinois citizens, but none have been passed.

Joe Visker, a doctoral student from Minnesota studying health education, said although he has not been hurt significantly by the increased bills, he believes it is the state’s responsibility to do something about the problem.

“For some of these people that are on a fixed income, it either means putting food on the table or it means turning the air conditioner on, and they’ve got to have both,” he said.

Visker, who lives in a Carterville apartment with his wife, said his bills have increased, but so far the change has been more of a nuisance than a serious financial problem. However, he said his next bill, which will likely reflect his use of air conditioning, could change his mind.

“We’re from Minnesota so everything down here is really hot for us, so we have our air conditioning on all the time,” he said.

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John Spaniol, a 50-year-old Carbondale resident, said his tolerance to the sultry southern Illinois weather has saved him from most of the impact of the price jump. Spaniol said he has not used air conditioning in his Billy Bryan Street home for several years and has seen only a modest increase in his electricity costs recently.

“I didn’t even see it that much on the bills,” he said.

Spaniol said his home also has gas heat rather than electric, which kept him from feeling the increase over the winter.

While he said he understands that some residents need to use air conditioning for health-related reasons, Spaniol said many would benefit from changing their lifestyles to adapt to the change.

“If you continue living exactly the same way you did before, not paying attention to the thermostat whatsoever and cranking her up, you’re going to pay,” he said.

Joe Crawford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 273 or [email protected]

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