JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “We’re going to open it up for amendments, we’re going to change it and make it the way we want it as a House version, and send it over to them,” Rep. Rocky Miller said one week ago on the House adopting a position compared to the Senate’s utility bill. “I believe that was sort of a promise that we would send it over to them.”
And true to his word, Miller and the House Utilities Committee took up Rep. T.J. Berry’s HB 2265, and did just that.
Over the course of two formal hearings, the committee heard testimony and opened up the bill for amendments, of which the committee had filed 30 in that amount of time, before finally passing their own substitute version out with a 10-2 vote, with just Reps. Tracy McCreery and Andrew McDaniel casting the only votes against.
The committee managed to keep most of the bill in a fashion similar to that which had been presented before them, with Miller saying four simple things about the legislation:
- It will lower rates – For Ameren Missouri, electric rates would be cut between 4 and 5 percent within 90 days of the bill becoming law to pass through the benefits of the Trump federal tax policy
- It will put into effect the lowest consumer caps in the nation, an annual average CAP on electric rates of 2.85 percent on Ameren Missouri and 3 percent on KCP&L for five years
- It will result in $1 billion in infrastructure spending to build a smarter, more secure and resilient electrical grid
- More than 3,000 jobs
It’s worth noting that through further reduction in the rate cap to account for the flow through of federal tax dollars, the calculation of the rate cap was updated to include 50 percent of the federal tax reduction, which would potentially further benefit customers with lower limits on how much rates can increase. This provision could drop Ameren Missouri’s rate cap below 2.4%.
Another provision of note that came about through the Senate compromises was the agreement to remove trackers for property taxes, cybersecurity, and physical security. The bill’s sunset was also reduced to five years, with the PSC getting the one-time authority to extend the program based on an assessment of benefits, costs and if there is a need. It also required that 25 percent of the total capital investment plan be devoted to grid modernization projects.
The bill that the Senate compromised on with also included concessions for the utilities, including a built-in 15% disallowance of PISA recovery to encourage cost accountability and specific language on the PSC extending the program for years 6 through 10 if they find a ‘need’ for further grid investment.
They also accepted language that provided for certain force majeure protections if they exceed a significant dollar amount and assure the complete discretion of the PSC to accept or reject any utility request for use of this protection.
But some of the changes, including Rep. Bill Kidd’s amendment, created some new provisions in the language, like Kidd’s amendment in regard to smart metering, which creates an opt-out for certain cases. Much of the changes were of a technical nature, but to put it simply:
“What we did is we incentivized the utilities to actually do grid modernization,” Miller said. “That’s the best way to say it.”
Miller says that the critics who say the bill is definitely going to raise rates is as fair as saying it’s not going to.
“We’ve never been down this road before,” he said. “It’s different, and what we’ve been doing hasn’t really worked. Our job was to make a House version.”
And it seems that, for at least some legislators, as well as the utilities, the continuing progress of the utility legislation is a positive sign.
“Today’s committee vote is the latest sign that lawmakers support a smart, secure and stable energy policy in Missouri. The Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity this legislative session to cut rates for Ameren Missouri customers by 4-5 percent, and then cap future increases,” Warren Wood, the Vice President of External Affairs and Communications for Ameren Missouri said in a statement. “This predictability will enable Missouri to modernize our grid while establishing the most customer-friendly rate caps in the country. We thank the House and Senate for making rate cap legislation a priority this year.”
But what the passage of the bill out of committee really means is two-fold.
Firstly, it gives the House an opportunity to convey their positions on the utility bill to the Senate. That allows the House to put forward provisions they’d like to see and send it to the Senate, who, as Miller put it, the knowledge regarding rate caps and PISA, as well as the negotiations that have taken place so far, lie with the Senate.
But if passed by the House, it also gives the Senate a second shot to negotiate on the bill, which apparently left a certain number of senators with a sour taste in their mouths. For some members of the upper chamber, it’s a second chance, a shot at redemption on utility legislation and try negotiations once again.
From here, the bill now must make it through the House for perfection and third reading.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.