A few Mid-Missourians supported Ameren Missouri and its operations, but most of the 13 people who testified Wednesday night at a public hearing urged the five-member Public Service Commission to reject the utility's latest rate increase request.
"A whole lot of Missourians are not able to, consistently, provide for themselves or their basic human needs," Empower Missouri director Jeanette Mott Oxford testified. "I really mean things like food, shelter, utilities and transportation money ..."
Known as the Missouri Association for Social Welfare since 1933, Empower Missouri is a recent name change.
In a question-and-answer session before formal testimony, Warren Wood, Ameren's vice president for regulatory issues, explained the utility filed a request last summer seeking more than $260 million in higher revenues - about a 9.7 percent increase.
"It was driven by a number of major investments for cleaner air, renewable energy and a more dependable system," Wood said.
Major operating areas causing the increase request include replacing aging substations and expanding the use of solar power. The company also has spent money to reduce carbon and other undesirable emissions, Wood said.
Opponents argue the proposal is Ameren's sixth rate hike request since 2007 and, if granted, would give the investor-owned utility a 57 percent increase in rates over the last seven years.
"Our wages have not been going up like that and our retirement accounts for our seniors have not been going up like that," Mott Oxford told the commission. "I would like to see this rate increase denied."
State law requires the PSC to allow a regulated utility a "rate of return" on its investment, and Mott Oxford urged the commission to set the rate of return at the lowest possible legal amount.
"I think that the rate of return that's allowed is ridiculously high, compared to how life is for the rest of us," she said
Martha Price said she and her late-husband did research on utility costs before choosing to live in Jefferson City.
Though she reported having no complaints about Ameren service, Price said: "How can we just keep going on and on and on, and expect people to pay these increases? ... I think they need to put people into consideration."
Nimrod Chapel Sr. called Ameren "an excellent company," but he's concerned about the effects on seniors and on families with minimum wage jobs.
"I think this rate increase, at this time, should be denied," Chapel said.
Larry Sauer, who lives near Russellville, said Ameren seems to waste money on its outside operations.
He said Ameren will send four people to install a pole, while Three Rivers Electric Cooperative will send only two people - and install the pole more quickly.
"There's just a lot of money wasted," he said. "It looks to me like they could save a lot of money."
Barbara Ross, who is an Ameren customer and also directs the Catholic Charities program for Central and Northeast Missouri, said she likes the idea of programs that encourage the use of more alternative energy sources.
But, she said, for-profit companies like Ameren run those programs to benefit themselves, not their customers.
"I don't want them to be the ones in charge of our energy future," Ross said. "That's dangerous.
"If they're in charge of this, we will never get ahead."
Eldon Schools Superintendent Matt Davis also voiced concern about poor families, especially since 64 percent of the families in the district qualify for free-and-reduced lunches - one of the ways poverty is measured in the state.
"I guess I don't see that as Ameren's main issue," Davis added.
"On the school side, some of the things Ameren has helped our district with - we were able to get solar panels on our schools ... and saved our district thousands of dollars, so we can help our kids in poverty read and write."
Michael Ryan, general manager of AZZ-Central Electric Co. near Fulton, said his 200-employee manufacturing operations rely "on companies like Ameren to provide us with a good quality and a good reliability" of service.