A Senate hearing on the possibility of taking the first step toward a second nuclear power plant in Missouri attracted hundreds with many differing opinions and lasted for hours, but the measure might well boil down to one issue.
A coalition of utilities led by Ameren Missouri wants permission to charge customers up to $45
million to obtain an early site permit for a second nuclear reactor at the Ameren plant in Callaway County. The coalition supports SB 321, sponsored by freshman Senator Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City.
The coalition has made concessions to consumer groups. It has agreed to ask for no more than the $45 million in reimbursement from customers. It has agreed to rebate the money to customers if the Public Service Commission finds that pursuing the early site permit wasn’t prudent. No agreement, though, has been reached on additional funding for the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility rate cases before the Public Service Commission.
“It does appear that this one issue is the stumbling block of this legislation moving forward,” suggested Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg during the public hearing at the Capitol.
Pearce asked Public Counsel Director Lewis Mills if Governor Nixon’s proposal to double the $700,000 budgeted for his office is enough.
“I won’t say that if the legislature was to find a way to give me 100 FTE (full-time employees), I could put them to work. I could make them work very effectively for the public,” Milles replied to Sen. Pearce. “But, certainly, the governor’s proposal is adequate.”
Governor Nixon has included $1.4 million in General Revenue money to fund the Office of Public Counsel for the next fiscal year. SB 321 assumes that extra funding and makes no provision for OPC funding. Sen. Jason Crowell has sponsored an alternative proposal, SB 406, that would tie Public Counsel funding to an assessment against the utilities. Crowell estimates that his proposal would provide up to $3 million a year for the Public Counsel. Crowell points out his proposal wouldn’t take money away from General Revenue, which has been hit hard with the economic downturn.
But Ameren Missouri President Warner Baxter says Public Counsel funding shouldn’t be tied to early site permit legislation.
“We support the Office of Public Counsel and their interaction into the process,” Baxter told the committee. “We do have concerns associated with OPC assessment funding being included in this early site permit legislation.”
Both the Senate and House are considering legislation, with both wrestling with the same issue.
The hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs, Emerging Issues, Pensions and Urban Affairs Committee lasted more than six hours.