AmerenUE expansion focus of Senate seminar

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 | 7:54 p.m. CST; updated 10:36 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — AmerenUE's effort to build a second nuclear plant was one of the first topics presented in a series of seminars for Missouri's senators.

Senators were urged by Ameren's representative to repeal a voter-approved law that bans the increase of utility rates to pay for the construction of plants before consumers receive the energy.

The seminar is one of several put on by the Senate President Pro-Temp Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. The seminars are designed to give the senators a chance to gain a comprehensive view of the energy policy that is up for debate this legislative session. While time ran out before all the senators could ask their questions, meetings with energy lobbyists continued after the seminar in the offices of many senators.

"It was a really good opportunity to get together to have a discussion of an issue without a bill in front of us with specifics where you'd have to worry about language, but more where we're talking in terms of ideas," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.

Bray is against repealing the law.

"This was a statute that was passed by the people of Missouri, who given a chance to vote on it again, I think they would ratify it again," Bray said. "And I don't see the justification in asking the customers to take on the risk of the private corporation in a way that the financial industry — the huge financial of this country and the world — aren't willing to share the risk."

AARP and the consumer protection groups represented by John Coffman are trying to keep the statute in place or have a modified one in its place to ensure the rates of consumers do not increase drastically.

"The consumers in Missouri have benefited from the power producers here being an exporter of energy," said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville. "Meaning, up until this point, our power companies have been able to generate more energy than they've used, and as a result, they've been able to take the extra capacity and sell it off at a pretty decent premium. And as a result, they've been able to use those profits to buy down the rates for consumers here."

Wind and solar power advocates are looking to put energy efficiency and green energy on the agenda for the coming legislative session.

The Kansas City Power & Light Co. and the Peabody Coal Co. also tried to play up the importance of their respective energy sources in the scheme of energy policy.

Lager is among those who said any policy for energy in Missouri can't focus on just one source but must be realistic since coal dominates Missouri's energy sources. He said his goal concerning this topic is to keep Missouri as an energy exporter so that rates can remain low.

"We have to understand that the vast majority of the energy production in the state of Missouri is coal technology, and I believe it will continue to be coal technology," Lager said. "What we need to make sure is that we put proper and responsible public policy in place that ensures that our utility providers utilize clean coal technology ... while at the same time understand that nuclear power is clearly the most cost-efficient and cost-effective way."

He continued to point out that while coal and nuclear power will generate the majority of Missouri's energy, it does have the capabilities to take advantage of wind and solar power. Lager's district in particular has nearly all the wind farms in Missouri located within its boundaries.

Many of the groups gave their energy policy a job creation spin. The creation of plants and other facilities would provide initial construction jobs and long-term energy jobs.

"To present it as a jobs package is, I think, a little misleading," Bray said. "It's going to be a bunch of construction jobs, but meanwhile, those folks who are doing the construction are going to pay a lot higher utility rates."

The seminar focused on the broad issue of energy, allowing senators not previously versed on the issue to get a better grasp but prevented a more comprehensive and detailed discussion.

"I'm not sure there was enough time to get a really good discussion going," Bray said. "And I'm not sure how you do that necessarily. Energy's a big topic. So maybe we need to focus more on narrowing the topic more."

Both Bray and Lager serve on the Senate Commerce, Energy & the Environment committee, in which the issues brought forth by the lobbyists and senators will be debated further.


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