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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – While rain and flooding have dominated weather headlines for nearly two weeks, the summer heat is taking its traditional toll on local energy bills.

According to data from the National Weather Service, June and July both rank in the top 20 for warmest summers on record in our region dating back to 1870. Couple that with energy supply not meeting demand in downstate Illinois, and you get the higher utility bills we’re seeing in the Metro East right now.

“Just speaking with some individuals that have been impacted today, they were telling me they’re seeing $80 and $100 increases on their bills,” said J.D. Dixon, the environmental justice coordinator for United Congregations of Metro East.

“Some families were already struggling to pay their energy bills, and their rent, and buy food for their kids, so an increase of $80 to $100 on their bill is just detrimental to a lot of families.”

“It is something that frustrates Ameren Illinois as much as it frustrates our customers and we want our customers to know that we’re thinking of them, we’re their advocates and we want to work together,” Tucker Kennedy, Ameren Illinois, said.

Kennedy said understanding this energy shortage requires an understanding of how utilities work in the Land of Lincoln.

“The actual energy itself is procured by a state agency on behalf of our customers,” he said.

The Illinois Power Agency buys wholesale electricity for residential and small commercial customers.

“They go out on the open market; they look for energy at the lowest possible price they can get it. We enter into a contract with that state agency at that cost. We get that energy, we deliver it to our customers, and then we pass those costs directly back to the supplier” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said a component of supply is the capacity charge.

“Think of capacity as an insurance policy,” he said. “It’s basically what is paid to generators upfront to be ready to produce on the highest demand days.”

Capacity prices are set according to an annual auction conducted by the federal grid operator for our region – MISO.

“Because of the shortage, not enough energy being bid into that capacity market, MISO saw their capacity costs increase by 47 times,” Kennedy said.

And thus, more expensive utility bills for customers. But Ameren Illinois stresses it’s not the utility getting rich off the higher price you’re paying right now.

“Ameren Illinois does not profit from higher energy supply costs. We are not involved in the acquisition of power. We are strictly a delivery-only company,” Kennedy said.

Community advocates like Dixon say understanding the system doesn’t make the bills any easier to pay.

“That puts families in a bind when they’re already on a fixed income,” he said. “We know Ameren does have some energy efficiency programs that are out, but they need to be more robustly put out.”

Here’s more information on financial assistance, payment programs, and energy efficiency measures Ameren Illinois has available for its customers.