Joyful holiday shoppers might want to watch their Christmas spending more carefully this year. It won’t be just the shock of credit card bills they’ll have to face in the new year.

Electric bills will skyrocket starting Jan. 1.

Both Ameren and ComEd rates, frozen by the state legislature in 1997, will no longer be regulated. The plan failed to create the desired competition its backers intended, as the two utility companies continue to dominate the state market. With the freeze ending Jan. 1, AmerenIP customers should anticipate bills up to 55 percent higher in the coming year.

Joanna Ramos of Danville can think of only one way to pay those higher bills. She works at Garnicas, the new restaurant in the Village Mall’s center court, where she’s paid minimum wage.

“I’ll just have to work more hours,” Ramos said.

The single, 21-year-old mother of two feels lucky to have family members who watch her children while she works. That saves her the cost of child care. But with her classes at Danville Area Community College and the responsibilities of raising two children, she only has so many hours in a day to spend at work.

“I’m going to have to budget my money even more carefully,” she said. “We’ll stay at home more, so we don’t use much gas.

“And I think I’ll get a lot more blankets. We can sit under them so we don’t have to turn the heat up.”

It’s families with young children like the Ramoses that concern others even more than themselves when they think about higher power bills.

“There are so many people who are already struggling,” Michelle Barthalow said. “I’m worried about children, pregnant mothers, who will be without heat this winter.

“We live in the average three-bedroom ranch,” the Westville woman said. “We have a gas furnace. When the (price of) gas went up, we bought electric heaters. We used them to save on the gas. Now we need a plan to cut back on the electricity.

“But what about those who’ve cut back as far as they can?”

Barthalow isn’t the only one worried about others.

Georgetown’s Carla Hernandez shared her concerns.

“Personally, I don’t have a real problem with (the increases),” she said. “I’m like a lot of middle (income) people. We’ll grumble about it, but we can afford it.

“But what about young families, people with kids?” she asked. “And what about those on fixed incomes? Some of them are already forced to make a choice between food or their medicine.”

Joan Martin of Danville lives in just that situation. She’s retired and lives on a fixed income.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “They could have created a better way of easing into this increase. If only they could raise the rates gradually … .”

State lawmakers disappointed constituents when they failed to block the rate in-crease or approve an alternative plan.

The gradual increase Martin suggested was one of the proposals before the legislature in its November fall veto session. The Illinois Senate approved a three-year plan to phase in the increases, but the Illinois House adjourned without voting on that measure.

State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, “remains optimistic that cooler heads will prevail” when the legislature reconvenes in January.

“Both of the utility companies have submitted plans to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which generally handles these matters.

“What I hope to see is a phase-in of the increases over time with a cap on the rates. We reconvene Jan. 7, and a decision is in the realm of possibility by Jan. 15.”

Recommended for you