SPRINGFIELD - State regulators Thursday denied Ameren Illinois Utilities more than 90 percent of the electricity and natural gas rate increases the company was seeking.

Customers, therefore, could see smaller increases to the delivery rates on their electric bills and even decreases in their natural gas bills under the plan approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Almost a year ago, the company asked to increase what it charges for delivering electricity and natural gas by a total of $226 million. The utility had since changed that request to $162 million and was awarded only

$5 million.

Commission Chairman Manuel Flores said the ruling was a fair one that followed the rules.

"The duty of the commission is to set rates. It's not to raise rates or lower rates," Flores said. "I'm confident that what we've done here today is make the right decisions."

The decision came in a 3-2 vote. Lula Ford cast one of the two "no" votes, saying she wanted more information about the specifics of the decision before voting.

"It's been very difficult for me to understand some of the issues that have come up with this," Ford said.

Ameren said losing out on a higher increase could affect the reliability of its systems. The company can appeal the decision.

"This decision may hinder our ability to provide the service our customers expect," according to a statement sent by Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris. "Over the next few days, we will thoroughly review the commission's order and determine what steps we will need to take. We remain committed to our mission of providing safe, reliable energy delivery service to all of our customers."

Consumer advocates, however, applauded the commission decision.

"The reality is that people are getting hit hard financially these days, at the gas pump, the grocery store, the pharmacy, everywhere," said Robert Gallo, state director for AARP Illinois.

The new rates could take effect in the coming days. Ameren has 1.2 million electricity customers and 840,000 gas customers in Central and Southern Illinois.

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