KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday he was pushing for legislation to help build a second nuclear power plant in central Missouri.
The proposal would allow utilities to charge customers for the cost of getting early site permits for power plants. Currently, state law does not allow utilities to bill their customers for the cost of building new power plants until the facility is online.
Nixon said the early site permit would cost about $40 million and customers would pay an extra $1 to $2 per year.
Speaking alongside community, labor and business leaders at the Governor's Mansion, Nixon announced that a consortium of Missouri electric utilities planned to seek approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the site of the plant.
The utilities, including Ameren Missouri, the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, Kansas City Power & Light and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, have not decided whether to build the second plant but want the option. Should they pursue the plant, it would be built at Ameren Missouri's Callaway County location about 25 miles northeast of the state Capitol, where the state's only existing nuclear plant is located.
"Given the uncertainties regarding how best to replace aging power plants, the potential impact of anticipated EPA regulations, and continued consideration at the federal level of carbon tax proposals, Ameren Missouri believes strongly that our state must keep all options on the table — including additional nuclear power generation," said Warner L. Baxter, chairman, CEO and president of AmerenUE, in a news release.
Consumer advocates said Friday the new proposal could force customers to pay millions of dollars before they can benefit from the power plant. They said that amounted to shifting the risk of new power plants from a utility and its private investors to electric customers who cannot get electricity from anyone else.
"It is certainly not consumer-friendly. It is against the interest of consumers," said Joan Bray, the chairwoman for the board of the Consumers Council of Missouri.
The permitting process for power plants addresses site suitability and environmental protection issues as well as plans for coping with emergencies. If approved, the permit would be valid for 20 years and could be renewed for an additional 10 to 20 years.
Missouri lawmakers last year considered legislation to help build a second nuclear power plant by letting utilities seek permission from the Public Service Commission to add the financing costs for certain types of new power plants onto electric bills before plants are operational.
A 1976 voter-approved law bars utilities from charging customers the costs of a new power plant before it starts producing electricity. Ameren officials previously argued that they doubted the company could amass sufficient private capital without repealing the 1976 law.
Consumer advocates and industrial energy users also opposed that measure.
Nixon said in a news release that the agreement reached with utilities has protections for consumers.
"Residential and commercial ratepayers will not pay one penny unless the consortium is given the early site permit; the costs associated with seeking that permit are determined to be 'prudent;' and the Missouri Public Service Commission approves them," Nixon said. "In addition, this agreement will keep consumer protections on the books for construction work in progress."
Nixon said in the release that a second nuclear power plant would create thousands of new jobs and new business opportunities.
It was not immediately clear when a decision on a plant would be made, how many megawatts it would produce or how the utilities would operate it.
Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said it's not uncommon for there to be nuclear plants operated by multiple utilities.
"It's a clean energy source and we need clean energy sources because the state is 80 percent coal fired," Gallagher said. She noted that various regulations are in the works that could affect coal-fired generation.