The Missouri Public Service Commission has begun a series of 13 public hearings on a request from the state’s largest electric utility – AmerenUE – for an 18 percent rate increase. And opponents are making clear their disapproval of the request.

“We’re simply encouraging folks to come out to these public meetings and let their voices be heard,” said Gregg Keller, spokesman for the Fair Electricity Rate Action Fund (FERAF), a coalition of consumer advocacy groups and employers opposed to Ameren’s request. “This is an 18 percent rate hike that is being proposed at a time when Missouri’s unemployment rate is closing in on 10 percent. So, what we at FERAF are trying to do is let folks know firstly that this 18 percent rate hike is making its way through Jefferson City and that it’s likely to pass if they don’t make their voices heard.”

Keller says the best way for people to voice their opposition is to attend and speak out at the public hearings scheduled by the PSC.

“So far there have been meetings held in St. Charles, Hayti, and Dexter,” said Keller. “There have been really overflow crowds at these meetings.”

FERAF has concerns for individual ratepayers but also for the impact the group fears an 18 percent rate hike might have on the employment picture.

“Let’s say you owned a small business in Mid-Missouri that employed 10 people, if you had a several hundred dollar a month utility bill that got jacked up by 18 percent, we’re concerned that small businesses like that across the state are going to have to lay people off or not hire people,” said Keller. “We’re concerned that this 18 percent rate hike is going to lead, potentially, to an even higher unemployment rate.”

The next public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 12th, in Jefferson City. The hearings are being held through January 27th.

Audio: Steve Walsh report (:60 MP3)