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18 August 2011

Kraus: The Power of the Future

The debate over future energy options is alive and well in Missouri. Prop C, passed in 2008, created rules for Missouri to explore and utilize alternative energy sources. Coal is still the most plentiful resource in the state, but the effort to expand nuclear power by building a second plant near the current Callaway plant is ongoing.

Previously, Ameren and other energy companies have made it clear they would like to build a second nuclear plant. The problem, from their perspective, is a Missouri law which does not allow them to charge consumers for construction work in progress (CWIP). In other words, unless they can have the law overturned or waived, they would have to come up with the full cost upfront. Earlier attempts to change the law have repeatedly failed.

This year, Ameren tried a different approach. They came to the General Assembly looking only for funding to apply for a nuclear site permit, approximately $40 million. They asked for permission to raise rates to get the money for the permit. Since it doesn’t technically finance CWIP, they thought this was an option. However, too many obstacles stood in their way, and no bill passed the General Assembly.

The issues surrounding building a new nuclear plant are a good example of special interests at work in Jefferson City. There is a strong and vocal lobby for Ameren and other energy companies. There is an active lobby for the largest energy consumers, industrial companies. There is even a “voice” for consumers, the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), currently financed through Missouri’s general revenues, although they don’t lobby legislators.

In current versions of the plan to finance a site permit, the energy companies and industrial companies worked out a deal to remove funding for the Office of Public Counsel (OPC) from general revenue and fund it by raising a fee on rate payers. I have been and will continue to be vocally opposed to this “compromise” because it is, in essence, a hidden tax hike on consumers. While I made it clear earlier in the session that I was opposed to such funding, the funding was increased in a version introduced the last day of session. I again stood up in opposition. While the rate increase per household is minor, it is still a higher fee on all users. Combined with rate hikes for the site permit, and future rate hikes for the plant itself, too much of the burden lies on you, the end user.

While I see a future need for a plant to be built, I am against raising fees just to fund a site permit. I truly believe that the energy companies could (and likely would, if pressed) fund the site permit with existing assets and ongoing revenues. I think that with a reasonable plan, the legislature would relax CWIP rules to allow some upfront construction funding after a permit was obtained. I also believe that the voice of the average residential consumer has been lost in the mix and needs to be restored.

Let me be clear - I support nuclear power and might support a second nuclear plant in Missouri if the rate payers are protected. I will, however, continue to be a watchdog for rate payers and taxpayers, making sure your interests are properly discussed as part of any solution.

Chinook Crash

Last week’s tragic helicopter crash in Afghanistan hit close to home. In addition to the Navy Seal team on board, the Chinook carried members of my former reserve unit based out of Olathe. My thoughts and prayers are with each of these brave soldier’s families as they deal with their loss.

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