That Ameren Missouri wants more money from its customers is no surprise. In the past four years, the utility — with permission from the state Public Service Commission — has raised its rates 36 percent, at a cost to ratepayers of $810 million.
Ameren Missouri, which supplies electricity throughout most of eastern Missouri, has yet another rate increase request pending before the PSC. It would raise rates another 15 percent, creating $375 million in new revenue.
Not all of these increases are bad. The utility needs to comply with new environmental regulations so that it pollutes the air we breathe less than it has in the past. It needs to become more reliable. It deserves to make a reasonable profit, as determined by the PSC.
But now Ameren, in its ceaseless quest for more money, is looking for help not just from the PSC, but also from the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 759 is the latest example of the company's overreach. Consumers have caught on. Lawmakers should, too.
The bill would allow Ameren to charge ratepayers somewhere between $40 million and $100 million for expenses incurred in obtaining an early site permit for a second nuclear reactor at its Callaway County plant.
Under current law, Ameren could get that money back once Callaway II starts producing power. But, in all likelihood, Ameren will never build Callaway II. It wants the money back anyway.
Last week, University of Vermont researcher Mark Cooper, one of the nation's foremost experts on nuclear power, published the latest of many reports indicating that nuclear power in the United States is going nowhere. Because of high costs, safety concerns following the Fukushima, Japan, tsunami disaster last year and market alternatives, particularly natural gas, no new market for nuclear power exists in the United States.
Utility executives tend to dismiss researchers like Mr. Cooper. But at a speech in Chicago last week, the recently retired CEO of the top nuclear-energy reliant utility company in the country said nuclear power in the United States is on its deathbed.
"I'm the nuclear guy," said John Rowe, formerly of Exelon Corp. "It just isn't economic, and it's not economic within a foreseeable time frame."
Warren Wood, Ameren's vice president of legislative affairs, insists that nuclear is viable, despite the evidence to the contrary.
He's either being intentionally coy or just plain wrong. Lawmakers need to look at the facts. Ameren has had great success in the last decade in getting the PSC to approve rate increases. But it always wants more. Now it wants more faster.
SB 759, in effect, also would allow Ameren to speed up the rate-making process, turning what is usually a 10- to 11-month process into one that is closer to seven months.
Ameren claims that Missouri's regulatory lag is out of whack with national norms. But the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group to which Ameren belongs, reports that for decades, the consistent national average for rate cases has been 10 months. Last year, the institute said, the average time was 9.62 months.
It would be one thing if Ameren were destitute. But the utility last year did well enough that it granted its CEO, Tom Voss, a 20 percent raise, bringing his 2011 salary and benefits package to $5.7 million.
A 20 percent raise is pretty good. You might even say it's enough.