Nixon opposes legislation for nuclear plant

Friday, February 27, 2009 | 2:39 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Gov. Jay Nixon says he doesn't think a law should be changed this year to help AmerenUE build a second nuclear power plant.

Under current law, Missouri utilities must wait until a new power plant is online before charging electric customers for the cost of building it. The Legislature is considering a bill that would let them charge for the capital costs during construction.

The effort to change a law approved by voters in 1976 comes after St. Louis-based AmerenUE filed an application to build and operate a second mid-Missouri nuclear power plant. The utility hasn't yet decided whether to go forward, but contends that it needs the ability to charge customers during construction to secure private financing for the estimated $6 billion project.

Nixon, a Democrat, told St. Louis radio station KMOX that AmerenUE should first get the necessary permits before focusing on financing.

"I think that we need to be very careful, especially in these economic times, that we aren't putting additional stress on families out there and their heating bills and their cooling bills and all that for something that might happen in the future," Nixon said.

Legislation designed to help AmerenUE has backing by both Republicans and Democrats, but the criticism of the bills also has been bipartisan.

Consumer activists and some environmentalists believe customers shouldn't be billed until new plants come online. Utilities, and a coalition of labor and cleaner power advocates, contend that companies can't afford to build the billion-dollar plants without recouping costs during construction.

The Missouri Energy Development Association, a trade group for investor-owned utilities such as Ameren, estimates that residential customers would pay 1 percent to 3 percent more per year and just over 10 percent for the entire project if AmerenUE builds a second nuclear plant about 25 miles from Jefferson City. Those assumptions are based on a six-year construction project, with rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities partially buying into the plant.

But some critics of the legislation estimate that electric rate increases could be significantly higher. Missouri Public Counsel Lewis Mills, who advocates for consumers before state utility regulators, has said that he expects rate increases will be at least double Ameren's estimates.


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