AmerenUE pulls plug on power plant
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AmerenUE pulls plug on power plant

Date: April 23, 2009
By: Valerie Insinna
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 228

JEFFERSON CITY - AmerenUE suspended its plans Thursday to build an estimated $6 billion nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

The company's CEO also requested that legislators withdraw a Senate bill company officials have supported since January that would allow AmerenUE to raise electric rates to pay for financing plant construction. That bill and a similar measure considered in the House have become major issues this legislative session, but neither proposal has received a final vote on either the House or Senate floor after months of debate.

When asked if AmerenUE would continue its efforts to obtain a federal license for the facility, a company spokeswoman said Ameren was in discussions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency to which the company applied for the license.

In 1976, Missouri voters passed a Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) law, which bans funding construction by raising consumer rates.

Ameren CEO Tom Voss has said consumer rate increases are essential to financing a second nuclear facility. According to him, rate increases would have ranged from 10 to 12 percent during the construction phase of the plant and would have stabilized or decreased once it was operational. 

AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary said Thursday that the St. Louis-based company -- Missouri's largest electric provider -- decided to suspend plans for the Callaway-2 facility because the current version of the legislation doesn't guarantee CWIP as a means of financing the plant.

"The legislation would no longer do what it was initially intended to do, and there didn't seem to be any opportunity for compromises that would restore what we consider to be essential in that bill," he said, "and so we had no choice really than to ask the sponsors to withdraw the bills from consideration."

As of the end of March, AmerenUE had spent $75 million on the plant, another company official said.

The bill's original sponsor, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said groups opposed to the legislation failed to form a unified opposition, making compromise difficult.

"We could never really get the opponents to identify what they were against," he said Thursday. "It was more of a bigger concept, and I think that varied from opponent to opponent."

John Coffman, a lobbyist for the Consumer Council of Missouri and AARP, said that because AmerenUE was unwilling to budge regarding any components of the legislation, no middle ground could be reached.

"Each of those consumer groups (opposing the bill) made significant offers of compromise," he said but also acknowledged that the opposition was varied. 

Prior to a substitute bill being offered by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, the proposal was heavily criticized for lacking certain consumer protections.

In response to Thursday's announcement, Schaefer said he'd like to see the issue of nuclear power come up again even if AmerenUE was not the company pursuing plant construction.

"I think the 4,000 high-paying jobs -- mostly union construction jobs -- that we would have seen over seven years for that project, I think it's unfortunate we're not going to see those," he said. "The single biggest thing anyone in (the state Capitol) could have done to reduce the carbon footprint of more Missourians than anything else would be to build this plant."

Gov. Jay Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the governor had been supportive of building a second power plant in Missouri but wanted AmerenUE to secure a license before trying to fund construction with ratepayer money. 

Cleary said AmerenUE isn't ruling out its plans to construct a nuclear plant one day, but, he said, he isn't sure when that might happen.

"You never say never," he said. "I mean, conceivably, something could happen at some point in the future that could impact that."



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