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Local coalition, including RCGA, backs Ameren-sought bill to repeal CWIP law

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 19, 2009 - A coalition of area business groups, has announced that it's endorsing efforts in the Missouri Legislature to repeal the state's construction work in progress law (CWIP), a move sought by electricity utility AmerenUE to help it pay the financing costs for a proposed new nuclear plant.

Forward Metro St. Louis' members include the Regional Chamber & Growth Association, Civic Progress, The Regional Business Council, Partners for Progress and Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois.

Forward's support was made public Thursday by Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future, a labor-business coalition whose financial partners include the state association of Missouri's seven investor-owned utilities, the Missouri Energy Development Association. Those utlities include AmerenUE.

The state's CWIP law, in place since 1976, prevents customers from being charged higher rates until the new facility is in operation. Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future, which supports the repeal, said such a change would "protect consumers from the current law’s provision allowing drastically higher utility rates once new power plants come into service. Changing the law would allow the Missouri Public Service Commission to instead consider much smaller rate increases for consumers to pay for financing during plant construction..."

Thursday's announced endorsement appears timed, in part, to get the attention of legislators during this week's recess. Sources say that behind-the-scenes talks have been underway this week. The Legislature goes back into session next week, and the Senate Commerce Committee could soon take up a repeal bill. The House Utilities Committee already has approved a repeal, setting the stage for a floor vote.

Gov. Jay Nixon created quite a stir a few weeks ago when he came out against the law change, at least until Ameren gets a federal permit to build the new nuclear plant. Ameren has said the repeal of the CWIP law is necessary before it draws up plans.

Forward Metro St. Louis' latest policy statement says, “Nuclear power has been shown to be reliable, cost-effective and sustainable, and so should be favorably considered in planning for our future energy needs, because it is essential for a growing economy to have an abundant supply of reliable and affordable energy.” 

The policy statement added that under current law, “Utility customers must pay for the just and reasonable costs of a utility’s power generation facilities once those facilities are operational. In the case of an extraordinary investment by a utility, such as that required to construct a nuclear facility, we believe it is also reasonable and proper for the utility to seek from ratepayers certain financing costs associated with such a facility before it becomes operational, as needed to allow the utility to maintain its credit worthiness during the long permitting and construction process.”

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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