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Bill to help AmerenUE build second nuclear power plan hits opposition from Jetton, Crowell

Thursday, April 9, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Electricity consumers across Missouri are receiving phone calls and fliers suggesting they should be wary of legislation designed to help AmerenUE build a second nuclear power plant.

They're coming from former Republican House speaker and Southeast Missouri native Rod Jetton, who left office three months ago and now is a political consultant helping coordinate the opposition to the issue.

Jetton's firm has formed Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates to help New Madrid-based Noranda Aluminum Inc. fight legislation desired by St. Louis-based AmerenUE.

A bill pending in the Senate would let utilities charge customers for the financing costs of new renewable-energy and reduced-emission power plants while the facilities are under construction. A 1976 voter-approved law currently requires utilities to wait until the plants start producing electricity before billing customers.

Senate battle

Jetton's involvement was the impetus for two senators to accuse each other of acting in line with political consultants during a more than 10-hour debate that ended early Wednesday morning without a vote.

Freshman Sen. Kurt Schaefer wrote many of the provisions in bill. He said one of the measure's most vocal critics, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, objected to the legislation on orders from Jetton, who is also a political consultant for Crowell.

Schaefer, in an exchange with Crowell, said "robo-calls" in his district about the bill were coming from Crowell's campaign office. Schaefer, R-Columbia, later insinuated that Crowell was being insincere in his assertions the bill would cause consumer electric rates to climb.

"Don't act like this is affecting your rates and that's why you're concerned," Schaefer said.

Crowell denied any knowledge of robo-calls. He then accused Schaefer of doing the bidding of political consultants Jeff Roe and David Barklage, who Crowell said "hate Rod Jetton."

Barklage, who also is listed as a lobbyist for AmerenUE, did not immediately return a call left at his Cape Girardeau-based company.

Roe, a Republican political consultant who worked for U.S. Rep. Sam Graves before starting Axiom Strategies, declined to state whether any of his clients are involved in the utility legislation. Roe said Wednesday that senators would be better served to focus on the details of the bill.

"I don't think any political consultants have anything to do with the very serious legislation before the Senate," Roe said.

Opposing the bill

Jetton denied pulling strings to get Crowell to oppose the bill. Jetton said the opposition is related not to the need for a second nuclear plant but how consumers would be billed for it. He said the opposition is organized like a political campaign, trying to increase public awareness.

"We think it's bad; we think it should be changed," Jetton said. "In no way am I trying to cause any elected official trouble or put anyone in a bad light."

Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates has mailed items and set up "tele-town halls" in which people are called and asked to remain on the line for an expert on the bill's provisions. After the presentation, participants can dial-in to ask questions.

"We're not trying to deceive anyone, we're trying to be upfront and honest about it," Jetton said.

Jetton said the new committee's name is included in any phone calls, along with a telephone number registered to the political consulting firm.

A direct mailing piece slotted for a residence in Schaefer's senatorial district features various quotes from media accounts, the names of groups opposing the utility legislation, the phone number for Schaefer's Capitol office and a disclosure that Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates paid for piece.

Utility bill is SB228

On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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Funny how politics turns people.

David Barklage was instrumental in getting both Crowell and Jetton elected and in the positions they now enjoy in their lives.

On the actual subject of the article, How is a company that HAS ITS PROFITS AND INCOME REGULATED BY THE GOVERNMENT going to fund an outlay like that. Only a buffoon would think that Ameren could afford that type of initial outlay!

-- Posted by John in Jackson on Thu, Apr 9, 2009, at 7:17 AM

We're in a tough spot. Who do you believe? Politicians, AmerenUE, or lobbyist. What a choice, huh?

-- Posted by grandma73 on Fri, Apr 10, 2009, at 8:12 AM

It would be helpful to have further specific information. IMO, too many questions are left unanswered at this point, with nothing much to share beyond the political posturing and finger-pointing activities.

Suggest the common goal is to find which path will provide the greater confidence for lower rates over the long haul. The old Fram oil filter commercial keeps coming to mind - 'pay me now, or pay me later'. Should the consumers pay upfront now to avoid the bulk of the interest charges, or wait-and-see what the rates will be when the plant comes online - with interest charges and all rolled in? Again, too many unanswered questions with the information provided at the customer level to be able to make a good decision whether to be 'for' or 'against' this legislation - although I do admittedly have some bias in my leaning.

The reported $6-$9billion dollar investment for the proposed 1,600 megawatt plant comes out to about $3,750 - $5,625 per kilowatt - a little less than one household's worth of capacity. For example - 1,000 kilowatt-hours consumed monthly divided by 31 days per month and 24 hours per day comes out to an average of 1.34 kilowatts used per hour. For those drawing parallels between this and the 4-kilowatt home generators that can be picked up for $500-$1,000 - keep in mind the fuel, operating, maintenance, and repair costs per kilowatt that would be required to keep such a unit running wide-open throttle 90+% of the time for the next 30 or more years.

Rates today are based in part on the majority of power being generated from plants built 25-50 years ago. Construction costs were obviously less back then, and any financing costs should be correspondingly lower - if the plant 'mortgage' hasn't already been retired. Suggest that new power plant construction of any kind is going to create an upward pressure on current rates. $6billion at 3% interest is $180million in interest charges per year - perhaps small change with the recent talk of trillions being tossed around so lightly lately, but still looking at the potential for upwards of $150 in average interest charges per year per AmerenUE customer, for the 1.2million customers mentioned here - http://www.ameren.com/AboutUs/ADC_AU_Fac... - accumulating up until the time the plant goes commercial, at which time the ratepayers would be expected to square up according to some timetable and formula.

Suggest the need to build new power plants is due in part to overall average increasing demand, typically on the order of 2-3% per year. While that may seem incremental, over a 10 year period, looking at the need for 20-30% more power. Plus, these 25-50 year-old plants aren't going to run forever, and a new large baseload plant takes on the order of 5 years or more to build - so there is a need to plan ahead. One benefit of the recent economic slump is that this demand growth is projected to subside and perhaps contract over the next 1-2 years - which buys a little more time and breathing room.

Not hearing much chatter against the concept of the nuclear plant itself, only on how it will be paid for. This is good - first hurdle cleared.

Suggest that no new coal plants will get off the drawing boards due to the current environmental uncertainties. While a similar-sized coal plant would be expected to cost half or less than this proposed nuclear plant - doubt that any utility is going to risk investing this amount of money into something that they're not reasonably confident of being able to operate for the next 30-40 years.

For those thinking along the renewables line - it would take the entire output of all the river turbines mentioned in this blog - http://www.semissourian.com/blogs/lindse... - to offset this one plant, plus still looking at the expenditure of 'only' $3billion on a technology yet to be proven on this scale. The question here would be, 'do you feel lucky?'. I also have doubts that there is enough viable wind and solar power in the entire state of Missouri, much less in Ameren's specific service territory, to offset 1,600 megawatts on a reliable and economical basis.

So, now what? Tough call either way - but wishing to avoid a blind knee-jerk reaction against any rate increases now which could lead to paying much more later, without first evaluating both sides. Perhaps continuing 'business-as-usual' is the best path, but want to 'know' this rather than just 'feel' it. My perspective is to go 20 years into the future, look back, and ask 'which way cost me less out-of-pocket over this period?'.

-- Posted by fxpwt on Fri, Apr 10, 2009, at 4:07 PM

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