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For a few hours earlier this month, the Senate Lounge of the Missouri Capitol Building resembled some strange game of pickup politics.
The two sides of the intense debate over reconfiguring the state’s Construction Work in Progress law were packed with notable heavy hitters preparing to testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment. So many people came to speak for or against the bill that reporters struggled to find space for observation.
The lineups were unusual, a confirmation of the cliché that politics makes strange bedfellows
The proponents’ squad featured labor unions, usually Democratic and liberal, banding together with business boosters, typically Republican and conservative, and a faction of environmentalists favoring renewable energy. Those interests hope the bill will pave the way for AmerenUE to build a massive power plant in Callaway County.
The opposition featured a potentially powerful line-up. Included were major corporations worried about the impact of increased electricity rates, consumer advocates agitated about the effect of the price spike on Missourians and environmentalists wary of nuclear power.
Watching the spectacle are Republican and Democratic legislators who will decide the issue’s outcome. Some legislators from both parties are exuberant about the prospect of building the power plant. Others are skeptical.
But some say that it’s way too early in the game, so to speak, to predict the outcome of the highly-charged confrontation.
“We’re in the first inning of the game,” said House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville. “They’re going to have to come together and make compromise if you want to see it through… If [the bill] comes to the floor and you have all these big businesses adamantly against it and consumers are against it, it’s probably not going to make it.”
At stake is what would be the biggest construction project in the state’s history, a $6 billion nuclear reactor that could produce thousands of jobs and a jolt of economic development in the Mid-Missouri area.
The law in question – which is commonly referred to as CWIP – prohibits utility companies from passing on the financing costs of power plants before they’re built. It was overwhelmingly approved in 1976 through a ballot initiative. While Sen. Delbert Scott’s bill would also carve out exceptions for non-nuclear power plants, the bill is seen by many as the vehicle for AmerenUE to construct a new Callaway County reactor.
That’s because Ameren officials have repeatedly said they will not build the facility without alterations in CWIP, arguing that a failure to do so would push the cost up to around $9 billion.
“We’ve been very clear with the investment community that unless we get some relief with this construction work in progress bill, we would not build another nuclear plant in Missouri,” Ameren CEO Thomas Voss said at the hearing.
The competing sides spent roughly four hours debating the merits and the flaws of Scott’s legislation.
An organization called Missourians for A Balanced Energy Future presented testimony to showcase a diverse coalition of interests supporting the CWIP alteration.
One member, former state Rep. Ed Robb of Columbia, said that the plant’s construction would bring about an unprecedented economic development boom for the state and region.
“This type of project will have an annual impact of approximately $1.2 billion in the state’s gross state product,” Robb said. “This bill might not be perfect, but I have a great deal of hope and a great deal of trust that this committee… will get this project done.”
But representatives of corporations such as Monsanto and Noranda Aluminum testified against Scott’s bill, arguing their bottom lines would be hurt by increased rates to pay for elements of the plant’s construction.