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Ameren Illinois Utilities Report Customers to Benefit From Continued Decline in Natural Gas Costs

Natural Gas Prices Down 40% to 55% Since Fall Peak

PEORIA, Ill., Feb. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- With one month remaining in the 2008/2009 heating season, Ameren Illinois Utilities natural gas customers will benefit from another significant drop in the cost of natural gas.

The continued decline in the cost of natural gas is a reflection of weak global demand for energy that has led to declines in the market prices of both crude oil and natural gas.

The cost of natural gas delivered to residential customers during March will be much lower than the price paid in February. Natural gas prices for March are as follows: AmerenCILCO - $0.64 per therm as compared to $0.77 in February, AmerenCIPS - $0.68 per therm as compared to $0.84 in February, and AmerenIP - $0.64 per therm as compared to $0.77 in February, reflecting decreases of 17 percent, 19 percent and 17 percent respectively. Since their peak last fall, per therm natural gas costs for the Ameren Illinois Utilities have dropped by 40 percent to 55 percent.

"The price of natural gas fluctuates from one month to the next based on supply and demand. Global economic conditions continue to weaken demand, especially in the industrial sector, resulting in lower gas prices," said Ameren Vice President of Gas Supply and System Control Scott A. Glaeser.

"We also recognize that the extremely cold temperatures that occurred in December and January meant that our customers used more natural gas this year than a year ago, resulting in higher total bills," Glaeser said. "We have and will continue to provide our customers with the information they need to better manage their energy usage."

Residential customers are encouraged to enroll in the Budget Billing plan. This plan allows residential customers to pay the same amount each month. The plan allows customers to pay an average monthly bill amount based on the last 12 months of usage. The payment level is periodically reviewed and adjusted as necessary. On the 12th month, the account is reviewed to calculate the difference between the amount of energy used during the year and the amount paid under Budget Billing. If the amount paid exceeds the actual cost of providing the energy, the customer receives a credit. If the amount billed is less than the actual cost of providing the energy, the customer is billed for the difference. By enrolling now, customers can begin leveling out their monthly payments.

Customers may enroll in Budget Billing by visiting Ameren's Web site (www.ameren.com) or by calling the Ameren Illinois Utilities (AmerenCIPS: 1-888-789-2477, AmerenCILCO: 1- 888-672-5252, and AmerenIP: 1-800-755-5000). Customers may enroll in the program or drop out at any time. There is no cost to enroll in Budget Billing.

Customers also are encouraged to adopt energy efficiency and conservation practices, which will allow them to pay less by using less energy. Customers may also consider setting thermostats a little lower. Each degree a thermostat is lowered can reduce heating costs by 2 to 3 percent. Ceiling and other circulating fans can be used to push warm air from ceilings. Humidifiers will help keep homes comfortable at somewhat lower temperatures.

A detailed list of energy efficiency and conservation suggestions is available on the new Act On Energy™ Web site (www.ActOnEnergy.com) by selecting the "Energy Savings Tips" menu item.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities purchase natural gas from gas producers located in various U.S. natural gas production areas. The wholesale price is not regulated, but rises and falls based upon market conditions caused by supply and demand. The Ameren Illinois Utilities pass the cost of natural gas on to customers, dollar for dollar without any profit or markup in price, through the Gas Charge (also referred to as the PGA, which means "purchased gas adjustment"). About two-thirds of a typical residential customer's bill is the actual cost of natural gas.

The Gas Charge is recomputed each month and may go up or down depending on the wholesale price of natural gas. The Gas Charge is a matter of public record and is available on the Ameren Web site (www.ameren.com) under "Historical PGA Rates" for AmerenCIPS and AmerenCILCO and "Historical Gas Charges" for AmerenIP.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities strive to keep natural gas costs at stable and reasonable rates for their customers, while dampening the effects of market volatility and price spikes from the wholesale gas markets. The utilities utilize sophisticated financial hedging strategies and negotiate both long- and short-term natural gas supply contracts.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities utilize a number of interstate pipeline suppliers, accessing multiple production areas to bring natural gas to Illinois.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities have been providing safe, reliable energy delivery service for more than a century. The Ameren Illinois Utilities deliver energy to 1.2 million electric and more than 840,000 natural gas customers in about 1,000 communities, while helping customers spend less by using less and communities grow through economic development initiatives.

Heating Season Tips from the Ameren Illinois Utilities

A detailed list of energy efficiency and conservation suggestions is available on the new Act On Energy™ Web site (www.ActOnEnergy.com) by selecting the "Energy Savings Tips" menu item.

Saving Money Today

  • You can save 2 to 3 percent on your heating costs for each degree you lower your thermostat during the heating season.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust your home's temperature settings when you are away or sleeping.
  • Never place a thermostat on an exterior wall, where it may be affected by outdoor temperatures.
  • Consider replacing a thermostat that is 10 years old or older with a newer model for greater accuracy and efficiency.
  • Regularly change or wash (depending on type) furnace filters. This is especially important if you have pets.
  • Take advantage of solar heat by opening curtains, blinds and shades on sunny days. Close curtains, blinds and shades at night.
  • Have your heating system checked and serviced by a professional before the start of the heating system. Improperly operating fossil fuel furnaces can pose serious health and safety hazards, as well as use more energy. Fireplace and wood-burning stove flues should be inspected and cleaned by a professional, as well.
  • Check for heating system duct air leaks. Begin by sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, unheated basement or garage by using duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After sealing the ducts in those spaces, wrap the ducts in insulation to keep them from getting hot in the summer or cold in the winter. Next, seal ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled part of the house. Properly sealed ducts can improve your heating system's efficiency by up to 20 percent.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFLs emit little heat and last seven or more years.
  • Use low-cost ceiling fans or other types of circulating fans. Fans help to evenly distribute air, eliminating both hot and cold spots.
  • Set the water heater thermostat to the 120 degrees Fahrenheit (or "low") setting. Higher temperatures not only are unnecessary, but pose a safety hazard for children. Use the "vacation" or "standby" setting when away from home for an extended period of time.
  • Follow the manufacturer's guidelines to drain a quart of water from the water heater every 3 month to remove sediments that cause the water heater to use more energy.
  • When not in use, keep fireplace and wood stove dampers closed.

Look in on others

  • Check in on the elderly and those with medical conditions to make certain they are safe and comfortable.

Saving Money Tomorrow

  • There is no substitute for insulation. Add insulation if attic floor joists are visible.
  • Use of weather-stripping and caulking helps prevents drafts, keeping homes warmer while saving energy.
  • Make certain exterior doors have a tight fit.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR qualified label when buying appliances, lights, heating and cooling equipment, doors, windows, home electronic products, office equipment and more. Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR, saved enough energy in 2007 alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 27 million cars -- all while saving $16 billion on their utility bills. For information, call 1-888-STAR-YES or visit: www.energystar.gov.
  • Significant savings can be realized by installing a high-efficiency heating system. An ENERGY STAR qualified high-efficiency heating system can save you up to 20 percent on energy costs.
  • The Ameren Illinois Utilities recommend customers enroll in the Budget Billing plan. This free service allows customers to pay the same amount each month of the year. Customers can enroll on the Ameren Web site (www.ameren.com) or by calling toll-free 888-789-2477.
  • Plant trees around the house. Trees substantially reduce energy use by shading roofs and walls from the summer sun and serving as a barrier against winter winds. For a free copy of "Planting Trees" for more details on proper tree selection, send an e-mail request to ppadgett@ameren.com.

SOURCE: Ameren Illinois Utilities

Web site: http://www.ameren.com/