By Collin Reischman and Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers continued to hear testimony Wednesday morning about a bill that would allow electric companies to seek a surcharge to cover the costs of previously completed infrastructure projects.
Supporters of the bill continued to tout their hope to update existing facilities and infrastructure, as well as the potential for thousands of new jobs in both engineering, construction and development. Mike Zambrana, president of Pangea Group — a professional engineering and surveying company specializing in facility construction and environmental services – testified firmly in support of the bill
“What we are most interested in is the potential for job growth by passing this bill,” Zambrana said. “Our company is not immune, nor is anyone immune, to this economic climate. Incentivizing this kind infrastructure investment, which ultimately benefits the consumer, can create thousands of jobs in our field.”
Zambrana said there are numerous dated facilities throughout the state in need of repair. He told the committee that such improvements “shouldn’t require a crisis” to fix.
David Mason, of Mason & Associates — an engineering, land surveying and construction management firm, told the committee that such improvements would raise the quality of life for the state by providing more energy at a cheaper allocation of costs.
Opponents also touted their contentions on Wednesday. Henry Fayne, former chief financial officer of American Electric Power based in Columbus, Ohio, said his opposition to the legislation was on a “moral stance.”
“As an executive, if someone brought this to me I would have welcomed it,” Fayne said in an interview. “But I think when you’re talking about monopoly utilities, you need to have mechanisms in place to represent a balance. Since you aren’t in that competitive market, there aren’t checks and balances to how you conduct business.”
Fayne said that companies like Ameren want the legislation — HB 398 — because it represents a financial windfall but that the need did not exist. Fayne said the main issue he had with the bill was that he believes the cost was disproportionate to the benefit.
“It’s just a very unclear benefit, but there is a huge downside,” Fayne said. “It’s never wise to take such a large risk without any apparently meaningful gain.”
Other opponents, like the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, called HB 398 an “assault on Missouri voter’s ban on CWIP,” short for “Construction Work In Progress.” Ed Smith, safe energy director for the coalition, said the bill would “erode” consumer protections.
“HB 398 is like a tax because it uses the power of government to increase electric bills on captive consumers,” Smith said.
Wednesday’s committee was another in a series of meetings about the controversial utilities legislation. Both the electric companies, including Ameren, Empire District Electric Company, and Kansas City Power and Light, as well as the ratepayers groups, led by Noranda Aluminum, Anheuser-Busch, and a coalition of businesses, have led aggressive lobbying efforts with hopes to sway committee members.
The legislation could be voted out of the House committee soon, but it is not expected to be debated on the floor until after the legislative spring break.
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CMReischman