Bill gives Aquila power plant a pass

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 | 6:54 p.m. CDT; updated 7:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A Kansas City-based power plant built without county permission would be allowed to remain operating legally under a bill endorsed by the state House on Wednesday.

Representatives adopted in an 88-49 vote part of an omnibus utilities bill that would allow the $140 million Aquila Inc. power plant near Peculiar to remain open. The plant was built in 2005 despite substantial legal questions and continued building after receiving a court-ordered injunction.

The Public Service Commission approved the project in 2006, but last month, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that state law requires the commission to grant approval of power plants before construction begins.

Critics of the bill questioned its legality. Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, opposed this part of the bill because he said it puts a corporation above the law.

“If you’re big enough and powerful enough, you don’t have to play by the rules that the rest of us have to live by,” Harris said.

Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County, said the proposal completely undermines local authority.

“This is a stunning violation of the principle of local control and a stunning violation of the principle of the rule of law,” he said.

But supporters such as Rep. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said Aquila acted based upon what it thought the Public Service Commission has allowed for 25 years.

“They weren’t going forward arrogantly,” Dixon said. “They were doing what they thought was in their power to do.”

Supporters also said tearing down the plant would be the consequence of voting against the proposal, which would cost about $150 million and could mean higher rates for consumers.

Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, whose district includes the Aquila plant, said that despite consumer concerns, this part of the bill is bad policy because it would give the Public Service Commission more power.

“The Public Service Commission has proven time and time again as of late that they are unable to develop a quality relationship with the citizens of this state,” Baker said. “Sadly enough, the Public Service Commission has become more of an advocate for power companies and less of an advocate for the consumer.”

But Rep. Ray Salva, D-Jackson County, said the issue could be boiled down to vocabulary.

“What about illegal don’t you understand?” he asked.

The Public Service Commission would have until Aug. 28, 2009, to grant retroactive approval to the Aquila plant. The bill requires another House vote before heading to the Senate.

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