SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — In the second of three hearings on Ameren UE Missouri’s rate case and an accusation of overearning, the Public Service Commission heard from more than 300 citizens at Harris Stowe University.
Noranda Aluminum, which operates an aluminum smelter in New Madrid, is one of the largest consumers of energy in the state. Noranda, leading a consumer group of more than 40 other businesses, filed a complaint earlier this year accusing Ameren of overearning.
Now, Noranda is demanding a reduction in its own rates, citing Ameren’s earnings as proof that their current rate is unreasonable. Ameren says that overearning — which is not technically illegal for the public utility — was the result of numerous factors, including an unusually hot summer that saw soaring energy costs.
Because Noranda consumes a massive amount of energy, Ameren says that the reduction of their rate would force them to raise rates for customers statewide, while Noranda fires back that Ameren is easily turning a profit, and that they don’t need to raise rates to continue to be financially viable.
“The Noranda Bailout,” as Ameren has taken to calling the company’s request for a 25 percent rate reduction, would increase energy costs statewide by between $500 million and $1 billion, according to Ameren officials.
Noranda is happy to point out that Ameren has raised rates by 43 percent in six years and paid its CEO more than $6 million in one year.
Several local area lawmakers attended the event on both sides of the issue. During testimony, ratepayer advocates appeared to outnumber those speaking on behalf of Ameren. Ameren spokesperson, Warren Wood, said he would make himself available to concerned residents after the event and even offered to help one customer personally deal with an unfairly disconnected account.
Despite the bitter, semi-permanent fight between Ameren and their largest customer, both sides can tentatively agree that the worst-case scenario is the shutting down of Noranda’s New Madrid operation.
A third public hearing will be held tomorrow in Jefferson City before several closed evidentiary hearings will take place. With two official complaints filed by Noranda, the PSC will have until August to determine whether Ameren over earned and whether to reduce rates for Noranda.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.