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UPDATE: Ameren nuclear plant bill likely dead for this session

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UPDATE: The various interest groups on both sides of the Ameren bill are weighing in on the news that the bill is likely dead: From Gregg Keller of Fair Electricity Rates Action Fund: "From day one, FERAF has negotiated in good faith towards a compromise which allows nuclear energy to be part of Missouri's energy future but doesn't saddle working Missourians with Ameren's potential 40% rate hike plan. If and when a true compromise plan is put forward which doesn't raise rates by as much as 40% on Missourians and which keeps in place crucial consumer protections, we will remain honest brokers on this issue, as always."

Also, Warren Wood, of the Missouri Energy Development Association, which has been pushing the bill, said that if the bill is indeed dead, it might close Ameren's window for a nuclear plant, based on two factors: Ameren's ability to obtain federal loan guarantees and the other possible investors in the plant moving on. The municipal utilities that are considering investing with Ameren for the plant, might have to make their own decisions about new plants, and will likely move on to natural gas options, Wood said.

JEFFERSON CITY – A bill that would pave the way for a new Ameren nuclear plant has hit a roadblock in the Missouri Senate and is likely dead for the session.

One of the Legislative session’s most controversial bills, the Ameren-backed proposal would repeal the state’s prohibition on utility companies charging customers for some costs of an electrical plant before the facility is up and running.

But consumer groups and large industrial companies in the state complained that the bill also rewrote utility regulations to the point where Ameren could reap too many rate increases during the process of building a $6 billion plus nuclear plant in Callaway County.

Today, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, indicated the bill was unlikely to come up for debate again this session.

“We’ve hit a point where the parties involved simply aren’t willing to compromise and if that’s the case, there’s simply not much to resolve,” said Schaefer, who wrote the current version of the bill that was originally offered by Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City. “Until the parties are willing to show some compromise, I don’t know that any one of us who have put a lot of time in this issue see any reason to bring it back up.”

Lewis Mills, Missouri’s public counsel, said he’s heard from many sources that the bill is dead for this session.

“It’s either the greatest misdirection in history or it’s true,” said Mills, who represents consumers in utility matters.

Two weeks ago, the bill was the subject of a late-night filibuster led by Democrats and Republicans, but primarily Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

Crowell and Schaefer got into a heated and personal discussion on the floor about the bill, exchanging insults about various Republican political consultants involved in the debate over the Ameren bill.

Last week, the major industrial companies opposing the bill met in Scott’s office and delivered the senator a list of possible compromise positions. The companies, led by Noranda Aluminum of New Madrid, said that they wouldn’t necessarily oppose a repeal of the construction work in progress (CWIP) law, but they were against the various changes to Public Service Commission regulations.

Also last week, Gov. Jay Nixon met with Senate president pro tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, and indicated that he would veto the bill in its current form if it came to his desk. Nixon has publicly said he believes Ameren should obtain a federal permit to build a nuclear plant before trying to change Missouri law to improve its ability to obtain financing for the facility.

Ameren has said the plant will not get built without a change to Missouri law, and it has said the opponents misstate the possible rate increases that would hit consumers as a result of the bill. But a letter from PSC staff to Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, said the information Ameren is providing to senators, and the information the company provided to regulators, is different.

Over the last few weeks, Ameren and the opponents have been trading barbs in television ads that have been running in the St. Louis market and elsewhere.

Schaefer said that if Ameren doesn’t eventually build the nuclear plant, Missouri consumers will see their rates increase one way or another.

“No one is going to get a new coal-fired power plant approved,” Schaefer said, because of new EPA regulations about carbon emissions.

Mills doesn’t necessarily disagree with that, but he said the problem with this bill has been Ameren’s unwillingness to compromise from the beginning of the process.

“I think going into the session, AmerenUE thought they would get everything they wanted,” Mills said. “We were willing to give them everything they needed. There have never been any serious negotiations.”


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