Co-Mo Backing Nuclear Energy Initiative

The board of directors representing Co-Mo Electric Cooperative passed a resolution Friday, Jan. 28, supporting the passage of Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 124, Missouri legislation that preserves nuclear power as an option for future power supply.

The bills enable the state’s electric industry to obtain funding for a potential nuclear unit in Missouri.

The passage of a bill would allow power suppliers of Missouri to pursue an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and strategically position Missouri to take advantage of possible federal incentives to promote nuclear energy.

The cooperative’s action supports Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who in a news conference Nov. 19 announced the state’s need for state legislative changes to meet projected electricity needs for Missouri residents by 2023.

Sen. Mike Kehoe and other senators have put forth bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 50, that preserves nuclear power as a supply option and potential construction of a nuclear unit at Ameren’s Callaway Plant in central Missouri. Ameren has a nuclear unit already operating at that site. Rep. Jeanie Riddle and other representatives have put forth the bipartisan House Bill 124, which is identical to SB 50.

Associated Electric Cooperative, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative’s wholesale power supplier, joined a coalition of six additional regional power suppliers — Ameren Missouri, The Empire District Electric Co., the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, Kansas City Power & Light and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance — in support of the legislation.

Co-Mo CEO/General Manager Ken Johnson said the cooperative has a history of providing low-cost, safe and reliable electric service to its 24,000-plus member-owners throughout its service territory. Given existing regulatory and economic uncertainties on coal-based power suppliers, such as Associated, Johnson said Co-Mo Electric Cooperative considers the legislation the most prudent course of action to meet future needs of its members.

Details about the project:

Who is in this group?

It’s something that doesn’t happen often. The state’s cooperatives, investor-owned and municipal utilities have joined forces in support of preserving the nuclear energy option. The group is made up of Co-Mo’s power supplier, Associated Electric Cooperative, and its statewide organization, AMEC; the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, Empire, KCP&L, Ameren Missouri and the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission.

What does the group want?

Simply put, the group wants to explore the option of building an additional nuclear power plant on the same site as the current one. The regulatory process of building such a plant is very, very lengthy, so what the group is doing is essentially getting in line so that, if the decision is made to build, it has advanced along the process.

What are the details?

State Sen. Mike Kehoe has introduced a bill, SB 50, that would allow this group effort work. Rep. Jeanie Riddle introduced an identical bill on the House side, HB 124. Right now, investor-owned utilities cannot recover the costs associated with building a new plant in their rates until the plant is operational. That makes the prospect of building a nuclear plant, which carries a significant cost and takes a long time, extremely unlikely. Would you lend money to someone and not even begin getting paid back for 20 years? Sen. Kehoe’s bill would provide a very limited exception so that the investor-owned partners in the group could begin getting paid back after what’s called an early site permit, or ESP, is issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Consumers would not pay a dime unless and until the permit is issued.

What are the benefits?

There are many. First, construction of the plant would create jobs. A lot of jobs. And not just those working on building the plant. Other Missouri companies would make parts and material for the plant, which would ensure employment for thousands. And operating the plant would create jobs, too. This employment trickles down to housing, retail and other sectors of the economy that benefit from the employed. On top of that, by the time a new nuclear unit is operational, it is expected to be the lowest cost source of electricity. Think of it as diversifying a stock portfolio. Doing so minimizes your risk. That’s what Co-Mo wants to do for its members. An added benefit: SB 50 does not impact the already strained Missouri state budget.

Why nuclear?

The federal government’s push for carbon legislation or regulation threatens the economic viability of Missouri’s coal plants. Co-Mo’s power supplier has already spent $1.4 billion to scrub 90 percent of air emissions from its coal plants. The EPA is moving the bulls-eye again to mandate removal of the remaining 10 percent. That would likely cost another $1.4 billion. Is it worth it if, after all that work is done and money is spent, the EPA could move the bulls-eye yet again? Nuclear power is the only technology outside of natural gas that could meet the emerging federal standards and serve the state’s baseload needs, which are expected to grow in the next 20 years.

Baseload vs. peak

When we talk about “baseload generation” or “baseload needs,” we’re talking about the amount of electricity needed to serve the “all-the-time” power needs of the population. As an analogy, your body needs a baseload of water to survive. Anything above that baseload is extra. In the power world, that “extra” is called the peak. The peak is the demand for electricity on especially hot or especially cold days. Keeping with the water analogy, the “peak” is when you exercise, for example. You need more water then, just as consumers need more power during the peak.

Why not wind (or solar)?

Stick your head out the window. It’s nearly certain the wind isn’t blowing fast enough to generate the power to meet the baseload. And even if it is right now, there’s a good chance that it won’t be tomorrow or the next day. The point is, wind (and solar and biomass, for that matter) is an unreliable power source. Unless you are prepared to deal with random blackouts, wind cannot be used to meet baseload needs.

How much is this going to cost?

Preserving the nuclear energy options would cost members pennies a year. If and when a plant is built, it would increase costs, though how much has yet to be determined. The fact is, electric bills are going to go up. With the current legislative and regulatory environment, there’s no getting around that. Electricity generated with nuclear energy is projected to cost you the least of any potential source in the time frame when the plant is needed. In other words, yes, your bill will be higher if a plant is built, but potentially much less than what it would be if the plant is not built.

What can I do?

Contact your state elected representatives and urge them to support Senate Bill 50 and House Bill 124. To find out who your elected representatives are, go to www.house.mo.gov or www.senate.mo.gov. On each homepage is a feature called “Legislator Look-up.” By typing in your ZIP code, you can find your elected representatives.

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