City discusses partnership concerning nuclear plant

Sunday, January 25, 2009 | 5:16 p.m. CST; updated 3:45 p.m. CST, Monday, January 26, 2009

COLUMBIA – Columbia officials and representatives of AmerenUE have held preliminary talks on whether the city might become a partner in a proposed second nuclear plant in Callaway County.

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The discussions have included whether the city might invest, become a partial owner or form some other sort of partnership with AmerenUE, which estimates the cost of building a new plant next to the existing facility at $6 billion or $9 billion with financing.

Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for the Columbia Water and Light Department, said that although nuclear power has not been considered as a power source in the city’s Integrated Resource Plan for meeting future power demands, AmerenUE has approached the city as a potential partner in the second nuclear power plant. The first has operated since 1984.

The Integrated Resource Plan predicts Columbia’s energy needs will grow by 1.8 percent per year. Given the likelihood that Columbia will have to retire at least some of the turbines at its aging coal-fired Municipal Power Plant within the next several years – and an anticipated increase from new federal regulations in the cost of electricity from coal-fired plants – it’s no surprise that Columbia is examining options.

Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman has endorsed construction of the newplant and said he believes nuclear energy is one of the best options for fulfilling Columbia’s future energy needs.

“I believe nuclear power to be the cleanest and safest form of power right now,” Hindman said. “It obviously has its downsides, but when you compare the pluses and minuses to all the power sources out there, I believe nuclear power is favored.”

In October, Hindman sent a letter to AmerenUE President and CEO Thomas Voss expressing his “personal support of AmerenUE’s proposal to build a second nuclear-powered unit in Callaway County.”

All parties emphasized that the talks between AmerenUE and the city are preliminary and that no agreement has been reached. Any arrangement between the two would be subject to the approval of the Columbia City Council.

“It’s something that is being brought up as an idea,” Kacprowicz said, “but as far as us saying, ‘Yes, we are going to do the thing,’ it hasn’t been part of the discussion yet because there is not much to evaluate.”

AmerenUE has discussed financing and partnership options with other interested parties but has not decided whether to build the second plant.

Ewell Lawson, manager of government relations for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, said several Missouri cities have expressed interest in an arrangement with AmerenUE.

“It’s not unheard of for cities to come together through the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission and buy into projects,” Lawson said.

For example, the second Iatan power plant in Platte County is partially owned by the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission. Columbia, Independence and a group of 32 other cities all bought into the Iatan plant. Columbia receives 20 megawatts of power from the plant and Independence  receives 50 megawatts. There is also an energy pool that receives 30 megawatts that is distributed to another 32 cities, Lawson said.

AmerenUE’s financing options depend largely on a bill being considered in the Missouri General Assembly that would overturn the 1976 Construction Work in Progress law and allow the utility company to raise utility rates to help pay for the plant’s construction.

Missourian reporter Jewels Phraner contributed to this report.

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