KASU

Missouri Senate committee advances utilities rate proposal

May 26, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Ameren Missouri customers wouldn't likely see a significant increase in their monthly electricity bills under a proposal allowing manufacturers that use a lot of electricity to negotiate lower rates, according to a Missouri Public Service Commission staff analysis presented to a Senate committee Thursday.

The proposal, which passed the committee on a 10-1 vote, is designed to bring an estimated 500 jobs to southeastern Missouri by allowing metal manufacturers that use a lot of electricity to negotiate lower rates for a longer contract than is allowed under current law.

Supporters hope it will help secure hundreds of jobs by attracting a new steel mill owned by an Indian company. It could also help convince a Switzerland-based business to reopen part of an aluminum smelter that it purchased last year when Noranda went bankrupt.

Critics of the proposal bill said households would bear the burden of the lower rate, but an analysis from the Missouri Public Service Commission found that average ratepayers wouldn't likely see a change in their monthly bills if the new steel mill comes to New Madrid. If the aluminum smelter reopens, ratepayers could see a maximum of $54 increase per year after 10 years if inflation were to stay consistent at 10 percent. Last month, average U.S. inflation was roughly 2 percent.

The commission's analysis was based on estimated special rate proposals from the two companies. The commission regulates investor-owned utilities and would have the power to impose conditions for the special rate or deny the initial rate request if they think it's too low.

The analysis presented some of the first concrete numbers for a bill that has received backlash during the Legislature's special session over concerns about the impact on regular ratepayers and questions about the identity of the company looking to open the steel mill.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2s0AnRZ) reported on Thursday that the steel company was India-based Sumangala Steel, which bill sponsor Rep. Don Rone said is also considering sites in New York and West Virginia.

Rone said he was confident that New Madrid could close the deal with the special rates, but some lawmakers had misgivings about passing benefits for a foreign company that could still opt to go to another state.

"This is legislation that we're passing doing this extraordinary session, and at the same time, we don't even know if that company from India will come here," said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat from St. Louis.

But GOP Sen. Doug Libla of Poplar Bluff said the 500 jobs promised by the two companies combined were sorely needed in a region that suffered severe economic loss when the Noranda aluminum smelter closed last year.

"We need to use any mechanism that we can that's fair to try to get these jobs back," Libla said.