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Bill to finance Callaway power plant moves forward

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 7:43 p.m. CST; updated 9:54 a.m. CST, Wednesday, March 4, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY – Despite the governor's opposition, the Missouri House and Senate continued to move forward on a bill that would allow AmerenUE to increase its rates to pay for the financing costs of a second power plant in Callaway. The Missouri House Utilities committee overwhelming voted in favor of moving the bill forward, and the Senate version is being redrafted by the members of the Commerce committee.

The spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon released a statement last week that said ratepayers should not receive a rate increase until AmerenUE has finalized its decision to build the plant.

"This is a two-step process that involves both procuring a license and then deciding whether to build," the statement said. "It is premature at this time to saddle ratepayers with potential construction costs before regulators have awarded a permit and Ameren has made the decision to build."

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said legislators will continue working on the bill.

"The governor's statements have been rather interesting," Scott said. "If he's really against it, he should probably say he'll veto it, and he hasn't said that. So we've taken from that we ought to keep working."

Scott said one of AmerenUE's major tasks is acquiring financing so it can build the plant, and AmerenUE has said it requires the change in legislation in order to get the loans it needs.

"It's kind of the chicken and the egg thing," Scott said. "Do you get the permit and then do the financing? Do you do the financing and then get the permit? Actually, it's a timeline process that has to be done one step at a time. If you don't have the financing by the time you get the license, you probably don't get the financing."

The bill is currently being significantly redrafted by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, with the intent to provide more protection to consumers while still giving AmerenUE the go-ahead on the plant.

Meanwhile, the House Utilities Committee voted on its version of the bill and, with a 12-to-1 vote, moved the legislation out of the committee. The bill's next step is the Rules Committee, where it needs approval so it can be discussed on the House floor.

"I think in the long run, this provides us the lowest cost electricity," said Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who serves as the committee chair. "It's a safe generation; it's a clean generation."

Not all committee members voted in favor of the legislation with the intent of passing it as is.

Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County, said he voted "a very reluctant yes."

"The bill as it stands has a lot of problems, and some consumer unfriendly provisions that really need to be changed," Zimmerman said. "But I want to have a seat at the table and the ability to influence this legislation as it moves forward. And I felt I needed to vote yes to continue the dialogue."

AmerenUE is in regular meetings with the governor's office, but Scott said he has not spoken with the governor about the bill.

 


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