JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Several hundred people turned out for the third Public Service Commission hearing, which was in Jefferson City’s Governor’s Office Building.
The series of public meetings were held to address Noranda’s two complaints to the Public Service Commission. The complaints have shed light on the profits Ameren has reported in the midst of rate increases.
Early attendees were greeted by many supportive of Noranda’s over earning complaint. The greeters held signs and passed out informational fliers and articles regarding the ove rearning. Closer to the start, pro-Ameren greeters also started distributing literature.
The meeting started with question and answer for Ameren Vice President Warren Wood. The microphone was brought out to audience members, many of whom were inquiring regarding their bills or Ameren’s improvements — the stated reason for residential rate increases. Wood did not sport a tie and left his jacket unbuttoned while casually answering questions into a ear-anchored microphone that he chose to hold. Noranda’s vice president of communication, John Parker, answered questions that started to emerge from the audience towards the aluminum company.
Also in the audience were many supporters of both sides of the issue. Noranda filled over half the room steelworkers union members wearing blue shirts which said “United for Power” and many more wore stickers which featured an international “no” symbol over “Ameren over earning.” Some wore yellow shirts featuring the “no” icon, which were given to supporters outside the hearing room. Several people were spotted with stickers that said, “No Noranda bailout.”
Four commissioners came out after the q&a to hear testimony.
Senator Dan Brown, R-Camden County, was first to testify.
“I am concerned about electric bills for everyone,” Brown said, saying the rates alarmed him as an elected official representing those who struggle with their bills.
“I am concerned that we will lose 900 jobs,” Brown continued, considering the potential loss of Noranda if they do not receive a rate decrease. “Nine hundred jobs is a lot for Missouri.”
Brown touted the impact that Noranda has on the bootheel and how vital the company is to their local economy. His testimony was met with applause.
Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-North Kansas City, testified next, wutg the message that it would be detrimental to the “poorest part of the state” and comparing it the impact Cerner has on the economy of Kansas City. He said the rate adjustment “is something we have to do” for the future of the state.
“It’s billions of dollars in an area that needs it more than any other,” Carpenter said. His testimony was also met with strong applause.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, testified next.
“I cannot not conceive a more damming indictment,” Kelly said of a potential success for Noranda, calling the complaints political and an attempt at “social engineering.”
The well-respected and long-serving Democrat was the first to show strong opposition to a rate decrease and was critical of the PSC’s system and the potential for further political games. Kelly, along with others opposed to a reduction for Noranda, see the proposed rate decrease as a “bailout.” Sparse, but deliberate applause was heard upon his conclusion.
Former democrat legislator Jeanette Mott-Oxford testified after Kelly, followed by a variety of concerned citizens, including Stoddard County Prosecutor Russ Oliver.
Though Noranda pays a rate 60% lower than residential rates, their aluminum smelter in New Madrid is Ameren’s largest energy consumer.
The complaints are said to be resolved by the PSC in the next 6 weeks.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.