Mo. senators begin debate over nuclear plant bill

> (The Associated Press) - Apr 8 - By CHRIS BLANK Associated Press
> Writer
> Missouri senators argued at length Tuesday over legislation
> triggered by AmerenUE's efforts to build a second nuclear power plant
> in the state, offering dozens of changes to the bill.
> The measure would let utilities pass on to customers the
> financing costs of new renewable-energy and reduced-emission power
> plants while they are being built, rather than waiting until the
> plants start producing energy.
> Sponsoring Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said the changes
> ultimately would save money for consumers. He said Missouri must
> adjust how it produces electricity, particularly in anticipation of
> federal legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions.
> But critics argued that it's unfair to force electric customers
> to pay for plants that aren't producing and might not ever be built.
> Senators prepared for a protracted debate as the measure received
> its first airing in either legislative chamber, then began discussing
> whom to exempt from any electric rate increases caused by the
> legislation.
> First, senior citizens and the disabled who earn $40,000 or less
> were spared. Then, senators tried unsuccessfully to exempt automobile
> manufacturing plants and New Madrid-based smelter Noranda Aluminum
> Inc., which last week contributed nearly $80,000 to a political action
> committee opposing the legislation.
> Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan failed in his proposal to
> exempt every Missouri resident.
> "As many people as we can get out of the bill, the better," said
> Callahan, D-Independence.
> The Senate also voted 22-9 against an amendment that would have
> required voter approval before the changes could take effect.
> The Senate legislation would repeal a 1976 voter-approved law
> that bars utilities from charging customers for a new power plant
> until the facility is online and producing electricity. The debate
> over that law was triggered by an application filed by St. Louis-based
> AmerenUE with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a second
> reactor at its Callaway plant about 25 miles northeast of the state
> Capitol.
> AmerenUE has not decided whether to build the second reactor, but
> company officials have said they doubt the company can amass
> sufficient private capital without repealing the 1976 law.
> Under the bill, utilities would be allowed to seek approval from
> state regulators to charge electric customers for the financing costs
> of building new power plants.
> Here is how that would work:
> _ A utility would file an application with the Public Service
> Commission to charge electric customers for pre-construction costs.
> State
> regulators would then have one year to determine if those costs were
> prudently incurred.
> _ The company then would need to get the required licenses and
> permits for the proposed power plant.
> _ After that, the utility could ask regulators to issue an order
> allowing electric customers to be charged for the capital costs of
> building the new power plant. The Public Service Commission would have
> 11 months to rule on those requests.
> _ The company could then seek additional rate increases
> quarterly, unless state regulators specifically outline a different
> time frame.
> The legislation also lets utilities collect costs from customers
> if they decide to abandon a project. But if a company sells a license
> to operate the power plant, then customers would need to be reimbursed
> first.
> State utility regulators also would need to give lawmakers and
> the governor's office a report by August 28, 2010, about the benefits
> and problems with using several different methods to pay for new power
> plants.
> The debate over how to pay for new power plant construction had
> been considered one of the top issues for this legislative session.
> But until Tuesday's Senate debate, the discussion mainly had been
> waged by activists and via advertisements.
> Many of the provisions were written by freshman Sen. Kurt
> Schaefer, R-Columbia, who said the legislation is vital to develop
> alternative energy sources in the state. He said lawmakers must
> consider what needs to be done to create the infrastructure that will
> be used for producing electricity 20 and 30 years from now.
> "What are we willing to accept, what are we willing to change?"
> Schaefer said in a rhetorical question posed to fellow senators.
> But several senators remain unconvinced. Sen. Rob Mayer, R-
> Dexter, filed more than a dozen amendments, and Sen. Jason Crowell,
> R-Cape Girardeau, said only those who don't face any rate increases
> support the bill.
> ___
> Utility bill is SB228
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