Missouri lawmakers fail to agree on nuclear plant bill

Friday, May 13, 2011 | 8:49 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers could not reach agreement before the end of their legislative session Friday on a bill that would have allowed utilities to charge electric customers for the cost of getting a site permit for a possible second nuclear power plant in the state.

Senators considered a final attempt to approve the legislation with less than an hour remaining in the annual session. That proposal collapsed after several senators raised concerns that there was too little time to consider the new version.

House leaders said after adjourning that they were unlikely to have passed the last-ditch effort anyway because there was not enough time to read the Senate's more than 40-page proposal.

Missouri utilities were seeking legislation that would have allowed them to add to customers' bills the costs for obtaining an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A state law approved by voters in 1976 bars utilities from charging customers for the costs of a new power plant before it starts producing electricity. Power companies and other supporters of the legislation argued the legislation was needed to move toward possibly expanding nuclear power in Missouri. But it faced opposition amid concerns from consumers and industrial energy users about protections for electric ratepayers.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, said negotiations over the final day were intense.

"There are companies in this state that are going to make decisions later this year about the future of their energy generation," Lager said. "Without passing this, they are going to take steps in a different direction. By passing this, we may keep this door open. It does not guarantee anything."

But others said there was not enough time to consider how the legislation would affect constituents.

"This is too short of time to be doing this stuff," said Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington.

Debate over the nuclear plant legislation started last fall when a group of utilities that included Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric, Kansas City Power & Light, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities announced they were considering seeking an early site permit for a second nuclear plant. The permit would not specify a plant design or authorize construction, and the group has said it has not decided whether to build a second plant.

Ameren Missouri has said it has spent $25 million toward obtaining an early site permit. The utility estimated an average residential customer would pay less than $2 per year if it were allowed to recover its permit costs.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon endorsed the utilities' proposal. He said allowing utilities to charge for the permit would start the process toward building a power plant in central Missouri and would create thousands of jobs. The state's only nuclear power plant is in Callaway County, about 25 miles northeast of the state Capitol.

Lawmakers in 2009 also considered nuclear plant legislation that would have allowed utilities to seek permission from state regulators to add the financing costs for certain types of new power plants onto electric bills before plants are operational.


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