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Nixon: Before charging customers, Ameren needs to get nuclear permit

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 27, 2009 - Ameren chief Richard Mark issued the following the statement in regard to Gov. Jay Nixon's stance (detailed below) on a measure, backed by the utility, that would allow it charge Missouri customers for the financing in connection with a proposed new nuclear plant. As it stands, a 1970s law bars such charges before the plant is in operation.

Said Mark:

"We are engaged in ongoing dialogue with Governor Nixon and his key staff, as well as with legislators of both parties. We understand and share the Governor’s concerns. We are working through the legislative process to address those issues and we are hopeful that the Missouri legislature will pass a bill that the Governor can sign. We want to assure customers passage of this legislation would not affect their bills until such time as we would begin construction, several years from now. In this regard, we agree completely with Governor Nixon that customer protections should be paramount.

But we need to pass this legislation now because UE cannot prudently invest the tens of millions of dollars and the many years required for the planning and licensing process without some assurance that we can affordably finance construction of a plant in the future. Passage of SB228/HB554 is essential to make possible the largest construction project in Missouri history. This project would rejuvenate Missouri’s economy - by creating 3,000 good-paying jobs during construction and investing at least $6 billion in our state economy and secure Missouri's balanced energy future for generations to come.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon just reinterated in a statement what he said at a news conference Thursday:

As he sees it, Ameren needs to first get a permit for its proposed second nuclear plant at Callaway, before it seeks to have customers help pay for its financing costs.

But today's statement makes it clearer that Nixon may have objections to state Sen. Delbert Scott’s bill that, among other things, would allow Ameren to charge taxpayers for the financing of the proposed Callaway II nuclear plant.

At Thursday's news conference here on various issues, Nixon had sidestepped directly coming out against the bill. Instead, he had said, "We need to be very careful that we're not putting additional stress'' on Missouri families by increasing their utility bills at a time when many are facing economic troubles.

Nixon said he also would support "additional consumer protections."

The governor made clear that he saw the nuclear project as a two-step matter. First one gets the license to build it. Then comes the construction and how to finance it.

Here's Nixon's statement sent out today, via communications director Jack Cardetti:

“Gov. Nixon is committed to making Missouri a net energy exporter, and he believes that nuclear power holds real promise as we move in that direction. At the same time, to turn this economy around, the Governor knows we must make energy as affordable as possible for Missouri consumers and businesses.

“To meet these goals, Gov. Nixon thinks it is in everyone’s best interest if Ameren continues to move forward in the federal permitting process.

“This is a two-step process that involves both procuring a license and then deciding whether to build. It is premature at this time to saddle ratepayers with potential construction costs before regulators have awarded a permit and Ameren has made the decision to build.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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