Columbia, Ameren moving forward with energy center deal

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 | 10:18 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A looming deadline is forcing the city and Ameren Missouri to move forward with paperwork needed to complete the sale of Ameren's share of the Columbia Energy Center, even though voters haven't had the opportunity to approve the bond measure that would pay for it.

The city's contract with Ameren, in which Columbia buys energy and capacity from the St. Louis-based energy company, expires May 31. If the city and Ameren waited for voters to approve the $49.5 million bond measure on April 5, there would not be enough time for Ameren to complete the paperwork before the contract expires, Columbia Water and Light Director Tad Johnsen said at a Water and Light Advisory Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Columbia City Council will discuss the process at its March 7 meeting, board chairman John Conway said.

The city currently owns 25 percent of the energy center and wants to issue a $49.5 million bond to buy the remainder from Ameren. The City Council approved placing the bond measure on the April 5 ballot at its Jan. 17 meeting.

Ameren needs to file paperwork with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Midwest Independent System Operators in order to sell its 75 percent ownership of the Columbia Energy Center, a natural gas-fired electric generation facility on Peabody Street, to the city, said Jim Windsor, Columbia Water and Light's manager of rates and fiscal planning..

Windsor said Ameren will have to submit the paperwork by March 15 in order for the transfer to be completed by May 31. 

The board is aware the deal can only be made "upon the positive outcomes of the election," Windsor said. "We've held conference calls with interested parties and make sure they all understand it."

"The primary reason that we have to have (the energy center) is for capacity," Windsor said.

By federal requirement, a city has to have at least an additional 14 megawatts of capacity in case of emergency or high demand, such as during the summer. Columbia has two contracts with Ameren, one for 70 megawatts of capacity and another for 72 megawatts of capacity. If the purchase of the energy center goes through, the two contracts will terminate, saving the city an expected $1 million a year, Mayor Bob McDavid said in a Feb. 23 news release.

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