An energy bill moving through the legislative special session called by Governor Greitens has been narrowed in scope from its original form.
The current version was passed by the House and is under consideration in the Senate. It’s tailored to allow lower utility rates for two industrial plants that would provide up to 600 jobs in the impoverished Bootheel region of the state.
The bill as originally filed Monday included what was referred to as the “PSC enabler” portion. It allowed the PSC – Public Service Commission – to loosen rules governing investor owned utilities to allow for modernization and upgrades to the power grid.
Ameren, the state’s largest energy supplier, claims its $500 million modernization effort in Illinois led to improved reliability, more affordable rates and a boost in jobs. Ameren’s Warren Wood says “There’s a number of different benefits we see from accelerating the pace of smart grid investments”.
A staff report from the PSC late last year acknowledged “minor modifications to the current regulatory structure may be necessary in the future to encourage significant additional investment in grid modernization”. Those modifications were included in the PSC enabler portion of this week’s original bill.
One of the provisions would allow a utility to hike rates in advance of making infrastructure upgrades to the grid. Lawmakers are divided on this idea and the call to modernize overall.
The special session session legislation was first sent to the House Utilities Committee, where it was molded into the form that’ll likely be sent to the governor. Three of its members offer their thoughts on the portion contentious portion that was sliced away.
GOP member Rocky Miller of Osage Beach, who chairs the committee, would like to see the PSC adopt the modernization measures.
“I’m willing to let the Public Service Commission see what they can do” said Miller. “Let’s see if we can right this ship, see if we can get some modern rates that benefit all of us.”
House Republican Tila Hubrecht of Dexter, who also sits on the Utilities Committee, thinks the regulatory structure of utilities will have to be modified eventually.
“So I do think that, at some point, we do need to address the issues with rate stabilization, grid infrastructure and what not.” Hubrecht thinks lawmakers have delayed taking action on the issue for too many years.
Democrat Peter Meredith of St. Louis is one of four minority party members on the Utilities Committee. He sees advantages to allowing utilities to boost rates ahead of upgrades, but is skeptical of the power companies’ motives.
“A company that has a guaranteed return on investment and a monopoly in our state, and who is making strong profits with an enormous reserve in place right now, it’s arguable that they already should be able to make those improvements, and are doing, and that they’re really just trying to increase their profits a little bit.”
Although there’ll be no utility rate adjustment mechanism legislated during the current special session, various stakeholders could push for the issue to return in next year’s General Assembly in Jefferson City, if not sooner.