JEFFERSON CITY - Although only a few weeks remain in the legislative session, representatives from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Renew Missouri took to the Capitol to criticize a bill that would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for construction costs before a new reactor is built.
The bill has been debated in one form or another for the past several years but never passed. It would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for an early site permit for an additional power plant. If the bill passes, Ameren could take up to $45 million from its customers to pay for the site permit.
Ed Smith, safe energy director with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said increasing the rates would be unfair.
"I will not go to a car dealer and start giving them money years in advance for a vehicle that I may never drive," Smith said. "So why should I be forced to give my utility money years in advance for a nuclear reactor that may never be built?"
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, is the bill sponsor. He said the timing and arguments of this press conference didn't make much sense.
"Right now, there's really no logical reason anyone would belong to their organization unless you're a provider of wind or solar energy trying to get the government to mandate your product," Lager said. "They're just trying to keep membership. Sometimes, right or wrong, when people start to lose their position of strength in this building, sometimes they have to reinvent the reality of what's occurring."
Ameren has considered building a second nuclear plant for decades. But in 1976, voters supported legislation that outlawed the practice of billing customers before a plant is actually finished.
Lager said he doesn't think that kind of funding will even be an issue in Missouri since a new partnership means Ameren can start the construction process without an early site permit.
"I think it's safe to say the whole early site permit, in its totality, is no longer necessary," Lager said.
But P.J. Wilson, Director of Renew Missouri, said his group is preparing for any situation.
"We considered canceling the talk because Ameren is saying they don't want to be on board [with the rate increases]," Wilson said. "But we don't trust Ameren."
Lager said it's doubtful any action will be taken on this bill before the session ends on May 18.