Charge for nuclear plants pondered

JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI - A Missouri lawmaker has proposed legislation that adopts new consumer protections while allowing utilities to charge electric customers for some costs of developing a nuclear power plant.

The legislature is considering whether to let power companies recoup from their customers the cost of getting an early site permit for another nuclear power plant. A 1976 voter-approved law currently bars utilities from charging customers for the costs of a new power plant before it starts producing electricity.

A House committee recently advanced legislation that allows utilities to charge for the cost of getting an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Under that bill, the cost for the permit would be added to the electric rates that must be approved by state utility regulators. If the permit was to cost more than $40 million, power companies would need to explain the high cost to the state Public Service Commission.

Critics have argued that the legislation does not have sufficient consumer protections.

The Jefferson City News Tribune reported that a supporter of allowing utilities to charge customers for the early site permit has filed a new nuclear power bill that caps how much consumers could be charged at $45 million. The new measure also would require that consumers be given a refund if the power plant is never built and state regulators determine that it should have been constructed.

A group of utilities that includes Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric, Kansas City Power & Light, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities announced in November that they were considering seeking an early site permit for a second nuclear plant in central Missouri. The permit would not specify a plant design or authorize construction, and the group has said it has not decided whether to build a second plant.

The state's only nuclear power plant is in Callaway County, which is about 25 miles northeast of the state Capitol.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, who is sponsoring the nuclear plant legislation, said it has "incredible consumers protections in it." He said the new provisions were developed after many meetings.

"I think it's exciting that we've been able to listen to the concerns of the large utility companies, the large industrial company users, and we feel like we've addressed their concerns," said Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. His legislative district also includes Callaway County.

The Fair Energy Rate Action Fund, which includes consumer groups and employers, has criticized the initial versions of the nuclear power plant legislation and called for more consumer protections. The group has said that there should be a cap on how much consumers could be charged for the early site permit and a rebate for customers if the plant never is built.

The consumers group also wants a change in funding for Office of the Public Counsel, which represents electric customers before the Missouri Public Service Commission.


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