AmerenUE applies to raise rates to cover filing fee for nuclear plant

Sunday, October 19, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:44 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

 COLUMBIA — AmerenUE wants to charge its electric customers for $46 million it spent to apply for a second nuclear reactor in Callaway County, but two environmental groups contend the proposed rate is against the law.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Missourians for Safe Energy were allowed to intervene Oct. 10 in the rate case to decide how much AmerenUE's customers' electric rates will increase.

At issue between the two environmental groups and AmerenUE is whether the public body that regulates AmerenUE's customer rates will allow the costs to influence the price of monthly electric bills.

AmerenUE is asking the Missouri Public Service Commission, which decides the rate increase of customers, to readjust monthly customer rates based on expenditures totaling $251 million, AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary said. Cleary said he didn't know how much the $46 million would affect a consumer's average monthly electric rates. But, if the commission disallowed the expenditure, Cleary said it would affect consumer rates "a little."

AmerenUE’s $251 million rate request would increase customers' electric rates on average by less than $9 per month, Cleary said.

The rate case before the commission would affect the monthly rates of electricity for 3,700 AmerenUE customers in Boone County, Cleary said. Nobody in Columbia purchases electricity from the utilities company, he said.

Cleary said the $46 million was used to file an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

Henry Robertson, the legal counsel at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, which is representing the two groups, said AmerenUE’s application expenditures should not be in its new rate request because a 1976 Missouri law prohibits charging AmerenUE’s customers for a construction project before it begins providing service.

Cleary said the utilities company found it “necessary” to include costs from the NRC application in its rate case in order “to ensure future power supply, reliability and energy independence for Missouri.”

AmerenUE would like to see the 1976 law rewritten so it could charge customers for construction work in progress on the proposed second plant in Callaway County, Cleary said.

Robertson said the environmental groups are against the construction of a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County, where AmerenUE has proposed for a new one to be online between 2018 to 2020.

“We should find renewable energy resources and energy efficient programs,” Robertson said.

Cleary said AmerenUE has not decided whether to build a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

Parties wanting to intervene in the rate case were given a deadline of April 28. The commission allowed the two groups to intervene late because they had shown “good cause” in challenging the NRC application expenditures, Robertson said.

“We believe there’s a public interest to be served here,” Mark Haim, the co-founder of Missourians for Safe Energy, said. “Utilities should not be allowed to violate the law.”

“I don’t know how Ameren will argue against this,” Robertson said.

Cleary said AmerenUE has submitted rebuttal testimony to the commission.

The commission is set to begin hearing the case on Nov. 16.

On Aug. 28, the staff of the Public Service Commission, an advisory group to the commission, suggested a rate increase between $28 million to $63 million, Kevin Kelly, a staff member at the public information office, said.

In June 2007, AmerenUE was granted its first rate increase in 20 years. The utilities company asked the commission to adjust for $361 million in expenditures but was approved for $43 million.

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