Lieutenant governor calls for new rate freeze

By Gus Bode

MARION – Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn stood in the Williamson County Regional Airport Tuesday morning and asked the people of Illinois to act like the SIU men’s basketball team when dealing with the recent electric rate increases from Ameren Electric.

“The Southern Illinois Salukis are Illinois’ team,” he said. “A hard-nosed defense � is what we have to take against the electric company.”

During the press conference inside the airport, Quinn said the only way to ease the financial burden the rate increase has caused people and small businesses is to pass legislation. He said the freeze that lasted nearly a decade and kept electricity costs low should be reinstated and the current rates should be rolled back. He also said refunds should be made available.

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The original rate freeze expired Jan. 1 and Ameren customers expected to see a 40 to 50 percent increase in their electricity bills. The jump in price was the first for Ameren Illinois customers in 15 to 25 years due to the freeze that was placed on their rates by the Illinois legislature.

A reverse auction was held last year before the rate freeze expired to determine which company would generate electricity for Ameren to distribute to its customers, which is what the rate increase was blamed on. Ameren’s generation company won the auction.

Ameren spokeswoman Erica Abbett said in a previous interview that the company could go bankrupt if the state government reinstated a rate freeze. She said Illinois would be put into a similar situation that California experienced during the summer of 2005 with rolling blackouts and brownouts.

“The state would have to step in and purchase power because utilities will essentially run out of money,” she said.

Over the weekend, Ameren President Scott Cisel said during a conference call with reporters that re-regulation of the company may be necessary.

Quinn said Ameren was not providing the services that people trusted them to, and it was apparent during the winter storms that left St. Louis and the Metro-East area without power, in some places for more than a week.

“We need to pass strict, no-nonsense laws that tell a company how to run,” he said.

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He added that teamwork from citizens exercising democracy was the only way to get new legislation passed. He encouraged people to join the Citizen’s Utility Board to fight the rate increases.

“There are a lot of strong feelings here,” Quinn said. “I believe everyday people here will come out on top. Just wait and see.”

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