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AmerenUE, of course, knew it could count on its “regulator” at the Public Service Commission, Chairman Jeff Davis, to support its exorbitant plan to undo the anti-CWIP legislation we voters passed in 1976 and enable the utility company to force ratepayers to buy another nuclear plant. Oh sure, Ameren has been pretending that the plans for a new plant are still not settled, but the Post-Dispatch wasn’t falling for that hooey:

This editorial is just a place holder. We haven’t decided yet whether to write about one of the biggest issues facing Missouri legislators this year.

Our colleague Tony Messenger did. In a column published Tuesday, Mr. Messenger wrote that executives from utility giant AmerenUE danced around the “gorilla in the room” when they briefed lawmakers on energy issues.

That gorilla would be a new nuclear reactor the utility applied to build in Callaway County. Strictly as an option, of course.


AmerenUE executives and the Public Service Commission don’t even want to discuss alternative ways to pay for the plant, assuming there is a plant and assuming the commission still is interested in public service, which we very much doubt.

Nor did Ameren have much trouble enlisting union support, with all those juicy construction contracts that it could promise would last for a decade or so. (Too bad that labor and environmentalists find themselves pitted against one another on this issue.)

Besides lining up the PSC and the construction unions, Ameren, having shared lots of shekels with Republican candidates last year, was set to come out, guns blazing. As is usual with this kind of ambush, timing is everything. The trick is to do it right after an election, when the representatives that carry your water for you are furthest away from having to answer for their chicanery.

And then scare everybody: We won’t have enough power! Don’t you see the sky collapsing in shards around your shoulders? Missouri is in terrible shape.  In fact, how’s this for scary?

Department of Energy statistics show that in all three categories of rates — residential, business and industrial — Missouri ranks in the bottom 10 nationally. And over the past eight years, Missouri is one of only three states to show a decline in rates.

“During that period we were dead last out of 50 states,” Wood said.

Ah me and alas. Here we are at the bottom of the heap again. Low rates are a problem we must solve immediately–though it does strike me that raising rates to benefit a corporation that made a ten percent profit last year is an eccentric way to behave in hard economic times.

It’s especially eccentric to do so when you consider–as Jackie Hutchinson of the Human Development Corporation pointed at the forum Monday night about Ameren’s campaign–that St. Louis has 162,000 low income families. Such people pay about 40 percent of their income for utilities–no, you didn’t read it wrong: 40 percent–whereas people at the median income level pay only 6 percent of their incomes for utilities. Even a three percent rise in utility rates would hit poor families like a Louisville Slugger.

Another tactic the nuclear proponents are using is to point out that a nuclear facility is cleaner than coal. Lobbyist Irl Scissors, who worked last year on the ballot proposition to require electrical utility companies to get at least 15 percent of their power from alternative energy sources by 2021, has switched sides. And that’s his claim, that he favors the idea of a new plant because it’s cleaner than coal.

Maybe. Depends on how you define clean. I don’t call a process that creates radioactive waste we can’t safely dispose of clean. Yes, nuclear power leaves less of a carbon footprint than coal does, but it does leave one. Both those sources of power convert only a third of what they burn to electricity. The other two thirds goes up in smoke, added to the environment.

So I wonder why–in fact, I wonder why the hell–are we looking at more nuclear power instead of at more wind and solar? Indeed, why aren’t we also looking at just being more efficient? I’m not even talking about conserving, using less–which would make sense too–but about efficiencies like weatherizing buildings and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use a fourth as much electricity as incandescent bulbs do.  My take on the issue? We don’t need no stinkin’ plant.

But perhaps it’s impertinent of me to be questioning the wisdom of Jeff Davis at the PSC. Understanding these issues is his job.

The PSC chairman said he would support legislation to [make ratepayers ante up ahead of time] only if it included adequate consumer protections and preserved the commission’s authority to disallow costs.

Surely when legislators replace the 1976 law, which was fifty words long, with a 24 page legal tome, there’s room as wide as Delaware for “adequate consumer protections”. Or room as wide as Tennessee for adequate Ameren protections. Hmm.

So here’s how it stands: Republicans, with the backing of the PSC and labor unions, want to shove this travesty through the legislature. What will Nixon do? He is not opposed to more nuclear power, but he is opposed to ratepayers shelling out up front and then watching the shareholders take the resulting profits. Environmentalists oppose the whole package and will attend the hearing on the Senate bill next Tuesday (which I hope to cover).

Lines have been drawn. As this controversy heats up, much will depend on how vociferous Missouri consumers are about the proposed ripoff.