The economy's continued struggles means Ameren customers can expect significantly lower natural gas costs during the winter heating season.
"The good news ... is that we expect natural gas prices will be well below the prices paid last winter," said Scott Glaeser, vice president of gas supply and system control.
In October 2008, Ameren customers paid an average price of $1.32 per therm for natural gas, while next month's average will be 56 cents -- a 58 percent drop. Last winter, customers paid an average of 84 cents per therm; this winter that price is expected to be 62 cents, or 26 percent less. The estimates assume normal winter temperatures.
The price drop is the result of the global recession and a reduction in worldwide energy demand that has led to cheaper market prices of both crude oil and natural gas.
Earlier this month, natural gas prices dropped to seven-year lows of less than $3 per 1,000 cubic feet -- down from $14 in summer 2008.
Ameren, which serves much of the metro-east, also said it will have adequate natural gas supplies to meet cold weather needs.
"Furthermore, we have the majority our natural gas supplies hedged or 'price protected' for the upcoming winter to insulate our customers from market volatility," Glaeser said.
And the company stressed that energy conservation can further reduce bills; tips are available at ActOnEnergy.com.
Earlier this month, Ameren filed a request with the Illinois Commerce Commission seeking to charge its 1.2 million customers the cost of all unpaid power and natural gas bills.
It also has requests for natural gas and electricity rate hikes pending with the ICC. Public hearings on those begin next week, but it will be next year before any decisions are reached.