Missouri Senate bill would change basis for utility rates

Thursday, January 22, 2009 | 6:10 p.m. CST; updated 10:35 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A voter-approved law more than three decades old would be revoked if a newly filed bill, sponsored by state Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, is passed.

Scott's bill would allow companies such as AmerenUE to raise their consumer rates before the utilities are being provided in order to help build a second power plant in Callaway County. The statute that would be removed prevented electricity companies from charging for services not yet being provided.

The bill, if passed, would allow AmerenUE to increase its rates to pay for the accumulating interest on the loan taken out to build the plant. The company would still be regulated by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Because AmerenUE would still have to pay for the principal, the company has been looking into investors, including municipalities, cooperatives and other organizations.

Municipalities the company is in talks with include Columbia and Springfield, said Warren Wood, the president of the Missouri Energy Development Association and an advocate for AmerenUE.

"The Missouri Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act allows the financing cost for renewable energy plants, and that would include nuclear, wind or solar plants, the financial costs, interest costs to be added into the rate structure as the plants are being built, not the construction cost but the finance cost," Scott said. "And this will be an incentive to get alternative forms of energy in the state of Missouri and get us to where we have plenty of power and can even export power if these three different forms of energy plants are built."

Although the bill allows for other renewable energy companies to take part, AmerenUE has been the driving force behind it.

"I'm questioning the wisdom of Missouri throwing all of its energy and political will into one company and taking away what might be developed otherwise if we don't do this," said state Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County. "I think Missouri should be exploring all kinds of energy development, not just putting all its political will into one plant for one company. I think we ought to be developing all the alternatives we can find and really exploring that because the long-term jobs benefit comes from those kinds of efforts."

The original law, the Construction Work In Progress law, was approved by voters in 1976.

"The time that the voters passed (the early statute) was a time of anti-nuclear energy," Scott said. "It wasn't necessarily a time of anti-financing and rate structure. That was an anti-nuke vote, and those days are over."

Some senators, however, are concerned with overturning a voter-approved law.

"Missouri voters put this law into effect, and it has been done before that the legislature overrides the will of the voters, but I think we have to be really, really careful before we do," Bray said.

Making the bill go through voter approval would help ease some concerns, Bray said.

The corresponding House bill is likely to be filed sometime next week.

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