Regulators order AmerenUE to shed more light on its expansion plans

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The utility acknowledged that portions of its long-range plan can be revealed.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri regulators have sided with a pair of state agencies and an environmental coalition that want utility company Ameren UE to more fully disclose its long-range plans.

Those plans could include construction of a second nuclear reactor at its Callaway County plant near Fulton, according to recent comments by Gary Rainwater, chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Ameren Corp., the utility's parent company.

The five-member Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, had previously honored AmerenUE's December request that its 3,000-page Integrated Resource Plan be classified as "highly confidential," a designation that restricts who sees the report.

But on Thursday, the PSC ordered AmerenUE to refile the plan by Feb. 10 but redact information it deems confidential. The two sides will then meet with the commission on Feb. 22 to negotiate a broader public release of information.

"It's as much as we could have expected," said attorney Henry Robertson of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center in St. Louis.

The law firm represents four environmental groups that challenged the utility's confidentiality request: Sierra Club, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.

In response to that challenge, AmerenUE acknowledged that portions of its long-range plan can be revealed. The utility offered to refile redacted versions of a seven-page executive summary along with a 200-page section of the larger plan known as an Integrated Resource Analysis.

The utility considers the remaining 2,800 pages to contain largely technical data "of little interest or use to the general public," according to the Jan. 26 PSC order.

Although one member dissented, a majority of the commission disagreed with that assessment.

Instead, the commission endorsed a suggestion by the state's Office of Public Counsel, which advocates on behalf of Missouri utility customers, requiring AmerenUE to resubmit the entire document, minus those portions it considers confidential.

Public Counsel Lewis Mills Jr. called AmerenUE's contention that reviewing the entire plan for sensitive information is too burdensome a "feeble protest."

"To me, that's not a valid reason," he said Monday. "It may be a burden, but that's too bad. That's what it takes to be a public utility."

A company spokesman said AmerenUE is working diligently to meet the state-imposed deadline.

"We have to go through all 3,000 pages and take out anything we consider proprietary," said spokesman Mike Cleary. "The problem is the complexity of this document. It's just a huge burden on staff."

Also urging broader disclosure of AmerenUE's plans was the state Department of Natural Resources, which in a filing with the commission called AmerenUE's proposal for more limited disclosure "a good start" but one that "does not go far enough."

Robertson called the support of DNR and the Office of Public Counsel critical.

"I think that was very important in getting us the decision we did," he said. "If it was us alone, it would have been much more difficult."

Cleary emphasized that any discussion of a possible second nuclear reactor at the Callaway plant is preliminary. Rainwater told a group of Columbia business leaders in December that the company was "seriously considering" such a move, which would be years away.

Cleary said the utility's long-range plans also include renewed consideration of a second pump storage plant on Church Mountain near the Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant in Southeast Missouri -- a proposal that was scrapped in 2001 after environmental groups and state officials objected.

But even that measure remains uncertain, said Cleary, noting that the Integrated Resource Analysis was filed just days before the Dec. 14 collapse of the Taum Sauk plant's reservoir.

"Our future plans are a moving target," he said.

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