Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ameren gets boost from Missouri legislature

Despite a chilly reception from Gov. Jay Nixon

ameren logoA committee of the Missouri House of Representatives voted 12-1 this week in favor of a bill (HB 554) that would allow Ameren (NYSE:AEE) to recover construction costs of a new nuclear reactor at Callaway, MO, while it was being built. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the “lopsided vote” insures “smooth sailing” when the bill reaches the floor of the full house.

The legislation is reportedly an almost entirely new measure that includes provisions for consumer protection that were not in the version submitted by Ameren. The Missouri utility took some hard knocks for its aggressive stance. [Earlier coverage] The changes in the bill will also serve to soften the governor’s earlier opposition.

Ed_Emery Missouri"I think if we put a good bill on the governor's desk, he will sign it," said bill sponsor and committee chairman Rep. Ed Emery, [right] a Lamar Republican.

Last week Gov. Nixon said that Ameren was “getting ahead of itself” in pursuing the change to the construction work in progress, or CWIP, law before actually obtaining the permit to build the nuclear plant. However, he also wants the high-paying union jobs the nuclear plant would provide, as long as consumers are protected.

"He's not going to give us a free pass," said lobbyist Irl Scissors, who represents pro-Ameren group Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future. "His statements encouraged the parties to get back to the negotiating table."

Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, told the Dispatch the substitute bill passed by the House committee is much better than what he called the "piece of junk" that had been submitted by Ameren. He still has problems with the bill but believes they'll likely be fixed in the Senate.

The Dispatch reports that the new version of the bill lengthens the time the Public Service Commission gets to approve a new plant from three months to six months. It moves the consideration of pre-construction costs to a regular rate case, which provides an opportunity for ratepayers to be protected if the plant isn't built. And it ensures that should Ameren decide to sell the nuclear permit or the plant itself that ratepayers would not lose their investment.

If passed by the House the bill will move to the Senate. Hearings, markup, and a vote are all expected this session.

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