JEFFERSON CITY - Testifiers on a plan for a second nuclear plant for Callaway County gathered outside two Senate hearing rooms Wednesday a hour before a hearing on the issue even began, causing blockage of a hallway that continued even after Senate doormen allowed some of the crowd to enter the rooms.
The crowd, consisting of both supporters and dissenters of the plan, were forced to accumulate on nearby benches and watch the proceedings on a TV provided for them in the hallway. Each person in the crowd came to provide their opinions on an attempt by the state's main utility provider, Ameren Missouri, to put the cost of building the plant on its ratepayers.
In order to build the plant, Ameren needs to acquire a early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would allow the utility company to hire outside researchers to analyze environmental, geological and safety aspects of the proposed building site. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill is a compromise between Ameren, supporting energy providers and state lawmakers to ensure the site permit moves forward, while ratepayers are still protected from suffering a major tax-increase.
"After multiple meetings, I came up with [the bill], which is laid out to be a compromise, but I want to be clear, it is not an agreement to the letter from either side." Kehoe said. "No one on either side of this equation was 100 percent happy with it but it represents, me, as a common sense guy, saying I recognize what needs to be done and the need for consumer protection, and I thought that was fair."
Warner Baxter, CEO of Ameren Missouri, said the ratepayers would be charged an additional two dollars for the average resident and two-tenths of one percent for the larger industrial users. Baxter called the charge a low cost for building and promoted the potential benefits a site permit and nuclear plant could bring.
"[A site permit] gives us the opportunity to access federal incentives, which can save our customers money," Baxter said. "Certainly there is no doubt that a nuclear plant could present a great economic development opportunity by creating thousand of clean energy jobs and hundreds, if not more, permanent jobs in the future."
To protect the ratepayers, Kehoe said his bill provides certain instructions about how much Ameren can charge as well as procedures for ratepayer rebates if for some reason Ameren does not use the site permit to build a nuclear plant:
Opponents to the bill, such as members from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said making consumers pay for the plant's construction went along with the Construction Work in Progress proposal, which allows utilities to charge ratepayers for the payment of new power plants during construction. Ed Smith, the No-CWIP representative with the Coalition, stated that the proposed legislation should not pass since voters shot down similar legislation two years ago and that Ameren needed CWIP to build the second Callaway reactor.
"Without CWIP, Ameren would not be able to finance a second nuclear reactor and Ameren needs CWIP because the free market gave up on nuclear power decades ago," Smith said. "While construction of a second nuclear reactor is sure to create jobs in Missouri, no state has ever improved its economic well-being by going with the more expensive option."
Smith also said that Missourians should not be left to "pick up the tab on a 50-50 gamble" that he said Ameren has already spent millions of dollars on pursuing.