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Missouri revisits talk of second nuclear plant

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Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., City Utilities of Springfield and Joplin-based Empire District Electric Co. have teamed with other Missouri power organizations to bring a second nuclear power plant to the state, a second attempt to win legislative support for increased nuclear power.

Speaking from AECI Nov. 19, Gov. Jay Nixon said he had orchestrated an agreement with the companies creating a consortium to obtain an early site permit allowing construction of the second plant.

“The sooner the process is started, the sooner our state will reap the rewards,” Nixon said.

Partnering with AECI and Empire District Electric are Columbia-based Missouri Public Utility Alliance, of which City Utilities is a member; St. Louis-based Ameren Missouri; Jefferson City-based Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives; and Kansas City Power & Light.

If received, the early site permit would allow Ameren Missouri to build a second nuclear power plant at its Callaway County location near Fulton, the site that has housed the state’s only nuclear power plant since 1984.

Nixon stated his willingness to get the project up and running quickly, as he will be working with Missouri lawmakers and members of the consortium to allow them to recover the $40 million cost for an early site permit.

Sen.-elect Mike Kehoe, whose district includes Callaway County, said he’ll introduce a bill in the Missouri legislature. Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Dec. 1 was the first day to pre-file bills in preparation for the first week of January when the Missouri Senate convenes.

The bill would mark the second time Ameren has attempted to receive favorable legislation for construction of the plant. The power company in 2008 and early 2009 sought to repeal Missouri’s anti-construction work-in-progress statute, which prohibits cost recovery until an energy plant is operating. Ameren ultimately withdrew its request in April 2009 after the bill hit roadblocks in the Senate.

Now, Ameren Missouri – which changed its name from AmerenUE in October – is taking a more measured approach, said Mike Cleary, communications executive. With legislative support, Ameren and other investors would immediately recover costs of the early site permit through increased rates, he said.

“We and other participants that have expenditures for preparing an early site permit could then begin recovering the costs … in our rates only after we obtain (the permit), which could be a three- to four-year process,” Cleary said. “That’s a consumer protection that would be in the legislation.”

Long road ahead
If the Missouri Senate would OK a bill, Ameren’s early site permit would then go before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Missouri Public Service Commission to determine if the permit costs were prudently incurred, Holste said.

Customers of the utility companies in the consortium would be responsible for repaying the cost of the early site permit, he said.

“When amortized over 20 years, that would be about $1 to $2 annually per customer,” Holste said.

Ameren has estimated nuclear power plant construction would cost more than $6 billion, and Cleary said investors haven’t been determined.

AECI Manager of Corporate Communications Nancy Southworth said the company’s stake in the consortium is to help make the nuclear power option available for six regional generation and transmission cooperatives to which AECI sells wholesale power.

Officials have forecasted AECI would need to add a baseload generating unit – a power generator that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week – in about 2023.

“It looks like nuclear would be the lowest cost at that time,” Southworth said, declining to say whether AECI would offer financial backing for nuclear plant construction. “Our objective is electricity, reliable affordable electricity.”

CU Communications Manager Joel Alexander echoed AECI’s interest.

“You’ve got to look at the portfolio while moving forward, whether it’s coal that we have now or whether it’s natural gas. If nuclear is a viable option, we’d look at that,” he said.

Alexander said CU would not be a buy-in investor. CU is involved through the nonprofit Missouri Public Utility Alliance, a service organization representing electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and broadband utilities statewide.

At such an early stage, Empire District Electric officials are figuring out the company’s role.

“The consortium is all working on this site permit, and by working together, it keeps this option open to us,” said Amy Bass, director of corporate communications. “Nothing has been decided.”

Expense vs. job creation
Environmental nonprofit Sierra Club has expressed opposition toward nuclear power.

Henry Robertson – energy chairman of St. Louis-based Missouri Sierra Club and a staff attorney for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center – said there are unresolved issues concerning nuclear waste and the possibility of accidents. He also cited high up front costs of nuclear power plants.

“Nuclear is so outrageously expensive,” he said, noting that when proponents of nuclear power think of it being cheap, they are talking post-construction. “It displaces a lot of the other options if you’re putting all your money into nuclear power.”

As an alternative to nuclear power, Robertson suggested utility companies could finance energy efficiency programs and provide renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

The national Sierra Club conservation policy on nuclear power states that the organization is against the licensing, constructing and operating of new nuclear reactors, pending development of policies to slow energy use and unnecessary economic growth, and the resolution of nuclear waste safety concerns.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is touting the job creation of nuclear power plant construction.

“A second plant will not only help us meet our energy needs 10, 20 years and more down the road, it also will create thousands of good-paying jobs during construction and during operation,” Holste said. “Those jobs will have a tremendous impact on the state and regional economies, including the impact on housing and retail industries in central Missouri.”[[In-content Ad]]

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