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Ameren Encourages Customers to Move to Budget Billing to Counter High Gas Bills
Ameren utility company officials are encouraging residential natural gas customers across Illinois and Missouri who face a major increase in wholesale natural gas prices to sign up for Budget Billing to eliminate billing surprises by spreading energy costs evenly over several months.

While Ameren employs several measures to dampen price volatility, rising natural gas costs could still end up costing the average Ameren customer from $15 to $30 more each month during a normal winter. Colder than normal weather will increase the total bill even more due to higher consumption.

Customers pay what Ameren companies pay for the natural gas supplies purchased from gas producers---not a penny more. Approximately three-fourths of a residential customer's bill is the cost of natural gas from Ameren utility companies' suppliers, while only a quarter of the billing amount goes to pay for the operation and construction of gas distribution systems.

To dampen price volatility and ensure reliable supply for customers, Ameren uses a range of financial tools, negotiates long- and short-term gas supply contracts, diversifies interstate pipeline transportation, and uses extensive underground storage resources.

"Despite these efforts, natural gas prices continue to rise--driven by record high prices for crude oil, an extremely active hurricane season which has threatened offshore gas production platforms and a very hot summer when gas has been used to generate electricity," says Scott Glaeser, vice president, Gas Supply and System Control, AmerenEnergy Fuels and Services. "In addition, we've had stagnant or declining gas production. Many promising areas for exploration of new gas supplies in the U.S. are off-limits due to federal policies or environmental regulations."

"While Ameren has adequate supplies of gas with firm contracts established, we must pass on to customers higher prices on the gas we supply. We are encouraging customers to seriously consider Budget Billing because we are concerned about the financial impact of high winter heating bills - especially if there is a cold winter," Glaeser adds.

By signing up now, customers can avoid paying high bills immediately. No additional deposit is required for Budget Billing. The plan allows customers to pay an average monthly bill amount based on the last 12 months of usage. The program is open to electric only, gas only and combination electric and gas customers. Customers can enroll in the program or request program removal at any time.

To better manage rising gas costs, customers can also take steps to conserve energy---by plugging air leaks, caulking and weather stripping and by sealing doors and windows and turning down thermostats (every degree you turn down your thermostat will reduce consumption by 10 percent). Regularly changing furnace filters and replacing inefficient furnaces can also save energy. And while heating accounts for the largest portion of residential natural gas usage, the water heater is the second largest user. Turning a water heater to the lowest setting (usually 120 degrees F) and placing an insulated jacket over that water heater can save on energy bills.

Ameren customers who are having difficulty paying their bills should call the Ameren company listed on their bills. Company representatives will work with customers on payment arrangements and refer eligible customers to agencies that may be able to help with energy assistance. Ameren's Dollar More and Warm Neighbors Programs are the region's largest privately managed energy assistance programs aimed at helping needy individuals and families cover their energy costs. In addition, the federal Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program is available to eligible customers. With the passage of the Federal Energy Policy Act, this program's funding has been increased.

For information on how to contact LIHEAP or other sources of help or for tips on how to manage energy bills and rates, customers should go to Ameren's Web site at www.ameren.com.

With assets of more than $17 billion, Ameren, through its subsidiaries, serves 2.3 million electric and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in a 64,000- square-mile area of Illinois and Missouri.