Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph complained that the process took more than 24-hours and there would be mistakes in the final product, but the Missouri Senate finally gave initial approval to utility legislation Thursday night that was years in the making.
The measure, which passed out of committee by a bipartisan 9-1 margin, was approved on the Senate floor in a voice vote and will require one more favorable vote before the House could consider it.
The measure alters the way the Public Service Commission (PSC) regulates the state’s largest utilities which are investor owned.
The key components would allow those power companies, including Ameren Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light and Empire District, to invest more than $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades while limiting their rate hikes to customers. Spire Inc., a St. Louis based natural gas provider, also falls under the legislation as a regulated utility.
Among the key compromises that pushed the bill forward was a change in the cap on the customer rate increase allowed, on average, per year. The cap would now be reduced from 3%-to-2.85%.
The compromises were hashed out in an amendment offered by Republican Senator Gary Romine of Farmington, one of the four members of the upper chamber who kept the filibuster going during the overnight hours Wednesday and into Thursday.
Romine was joined in the delay tactic by Schaaf, Republican Senator Doug Libla of Poplar Bluff and, later on Thursday morning by Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City.
The bill also includes accounting provisions in which the utilities would track certain costs, such as depreciation on investment, that they can bring to the table during rate cases before the PSC.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Ed Emery of Lamar, contends these “trackers”, which also include property taxes, transmission and cyber-security, will keep the utilities honest by bringing rates down if their expenses are reduced.
David Woodsmall with the Midwest Energy Consumers Group has said the utilities made sure the legislation only called for the tracking of expenses that constantly increase so they can recover those costs during rate cases.
Midwest Energy Consumers Group (MECG) represents the interests of large commercial and industrial operations. The senators who spearheaded the marathon debate often targeted other lawmakers for favoring a bill that is opposed by numerous large employers in their districts, often those represented by MECG.
Emery, who has sponsored similar utility legislation for the past several years, says there’s a growing consensus that the state’s 100-year-old energy regulations are hurting Missouri’s economy and impeding modernization of the power grid.
He worked with the utility companies in crafting the legislation.
Ameren Missouri is the state’s largest utility with nine power plants serving 1.2 million customers. The company has a strong presence at the state Capitol. During the filibuster, Senator Schaaf claimed Ameren had given “$1.2 million to the politicians in this building.” He later corrected himself, noting Ameren contributed more than $800,000, while the two other utilities donated the balance of the $1.2 million he referenced.
Ameren Missouri Vice President Warren Wood issued a statement late Thursday night praising the upper chamber’s accomplishment.
“This bipartisan Senate approval reflects the balanced approach this rate cap bill takes towards upending the status quo,” said Wood. “We look forward to ongoing discussions in the coming weeks to ensure that this important legislation becomes a reality for customers.”
An important change to the utility bill came early on during the filibuster Wednesday night. The amendment contained language that would ensure large sums of money the utilities will realize from a corporate tax cut passed by Congress will pass on to customers.
Ameren says the change in the bill speeds the process for those savings to reach consumers. “This rate decrease will save our customers more than $100 million within 90 days of this bill becoming law” said Ameren Vice President Wood in a statement.
The final Senate vote on the utility legislation won’t come until next week as the entire legislature adjourned for the week on Thursday.