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Mo. panel sees power plant cost recovery law as 'roadblock' to nuclear power

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission is encouraging a review of a state law that prevents the recovery of power plant costs before the plant is in commercial operation.

The commission recently approved a resolution calling the law "an intractable roadblock for financing and construction of new nuclear power plants in Missouri." The resolution, approved in a 5-0 vote on Oct. 17, asks the Division of Energy of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the state legislature to "address the negative impacts" of the law on the ability to build new nuclear power plants in the state.

The governor-appointed commission sits within the state's Department of Natural Resources and adopts rules and prescribes air quality standards, among other responsibilities. A representative for the department did not immediately return a request for further comment. Missouri lawmakers are not in session until January 2020.

The panel had initially proposed a resolution asking lawmakers to repeal or replace parts of the law. That proposal got mixed reaction. The Missouri Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility customers in matters before the Public Service Commission, and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment asked the air commission to respectively withdraw and oppose the resolution. The Missouri Farm Bureau supported the proposal.

Commissioner Ron Boyer on Oct. 17 presented a revised version that did not call for a repeal or replacement of the law. After a brief discussion, the commission approved the resolution.

Commissioner Richard Rocha said the resolution would give Missouri the opportunity to consider a resource with no greenhouse gas emissions or pollution.

Ameren Missouri, the owner and operator of the state's only nuclear power plant, Callaway, did not take a position on the resolution. The company is known legally as Union Electric Co.

"Our latest generation plans do not call for any new nuclear generation capacity," said Warren Wood, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs at Ameren Missouri. "We will monitor developments in the industry as we continue to reduce emissions while keeping customer rates stable and predictable."

Ameren Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Warner Baxter has said the 1,236-MW Callaway plant, licensed to operate through 2044, has a big role in the company's plans to reduce carbon dioxide levels 35% below 2005 levels by 2030, 50% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.

2nd nuclear plant considered before

Ameren Missouri had previously pursued more nuclear in the state.

The utility in 2009 suspended plans for a second nuclear unit at the Callaway plant after a bill to allow recovery of construction-work-in-progress costs stalled. The utility withdrew its application for a second Callaway unit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August 2015.

In 2012, Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse agreed to work together to pursue a U.S. Department of Energy award to fund the engineering, certification and licensing of Westinghouse's 225-MW small modular reactor design to potentially deploy the new technology at the Callaway site. But the funds went to another developer and Ameren Missouri stepped back from the effort.