Electric Companies Could Charge Customers for Improvements

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JEFFERSON CITY - A proposal to allow electric companies to raise their rates to pay for infrastructure work got a mixed reception Wednesday.

The bill would allow electric companies to raise their rates to recover the costs of infrastructure work ranging from towers and wires to cybersecurity and smart grid investments. Any rate increases would have to go through the Missouri Public Service Commission. Gas and water companies in Missouri have been able to do this for about a decade.

Ameren President and CEO Warner Baxter told the House Utilities Committee a "bow wave" of infrastructure needs is coming due to growth in high-tech industries. He said today's computer-dependent businesses need continual, perfect power to avoid losing productivity. Baxter said allowing electric companies to raise their rates would allow them to immediately start renovating decades-old infrastructure, creating jobs in the process.

Irl Scissors, the executive director of Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future, said putting the measure in place would allow utilities to recover more quickly from disasters. He said it would also help the state transition away from a coal-dependent electrical grid.

Some committee members weren't convinced the bill was a good idea. Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, repeatedly questioned whether the state was in fact facing a power-delivery crisis. He said he was concerned there wasn't enough review process built into the bill.

"The customer has a vested interest in not being the bank," Richardson said.

Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, told KOMU 8 News he hasn't decided how he feels about the bill. He said having consumers pay for improvements over time rather than all at once is a good idea, but he said the bill should ultimately consider what is best for consumers.

Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers chairman Steve Spinner said letting utility companies hike rates to pay for infrastructure would kill jobs over the long run. He called the measure "a solution in search of a problem" and said utility companies could easily abuse their power if the bill was enacted.

Committee chair Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, said public testimony would continue at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 6.


House Bill 398