In addition, customers can now "opt out" of receiving the traditional paper bill and pay their bill electronically.
"These new online services are just the latest in a series of new features we have added to our Web site to make it easier for people to do business with us," said Richard Mark, senior vice president, Missouri Energy Delivery. The outage map, inspired by similar maps produced by Florida utilities during last year's hurricanes, allows electric customers in the AmerenUE, AmerenCIPS and AmerenCILCO service territories to view outage data by ZIP code. AmerenIP data will be added with customer system conversions slated for the fall of 2005. To give Web visitors some perspective, the site shows both the number of customers out in each ZIP code and the total number of customers served. Ameren serves 1.7 million customers in the service territories currently displaying real-time outage data.
"Part of our goal is to educate the public about power outages\-what causes them and how we work to prevent them or minimize their duration when they do strike," said Mark.
Though the most severe and longest-lasting outages are caused by weather, Mark said that outages can occur at any time for any number of reasons.
"We strive to prevent power outages, but traffic accidents, wild animals and maintenance can cause service disruptions," he said. "In fact, when people were bracing for widespread outages from the Y2K bug, the only outage on our system at midnight on December 31, 1999, was caused by some helium balloons released at a New Year's Eve party!"
Other links within Ameren's Storm Center provide helpful tips for what to do before, during and after power outages.
Another new option on the Web site is the ability to view and pay bills online. Once AmerenUE, AmerenCIPS and AmerenCILCO customers have registered on Ameren's Web site and signed up for this service, they will receive an e-mail monthly notifying them that their bill is available. AmerenIP customers will also have this service with customer system conversions slated for the fall of 2005. By clicking a link in the e-mail, they will log in with their personal User ID and Password. Next, they will go to Ameren's Residential home page, where they can click a red "Pay Now" button, or choose a link to "View Bill Image."
Ameren works with two vendors to process electronic payments: CheckFree pushes funds from a customer-designated checking or savings account directly to Ameren. SpeedPay allows customers to pay by debit or credit card.
"Paying on-line is a safe, secure and efficient way for Ameren to receive customer payments," says Mark. "The payments come to Ameren electronically and post automatically to the customer system."
Customers can either choose electronic notification, the traditional paper bill or both.
"We believe in providing options," Mark says. "The easier we can make life for our customers, the better."
With assets of more than $17 billion, Ameren owns a diverse mix of electric generating plants strategically located in its Midwest market with a generating capacity of more than 15,000 megawatts.