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Opinion: HB 1684 could fix antiquated statute limiting Missouri’s energy options


In her 1957 novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand introduced us to the concept of the “anti-dog-eat-dog” law. In her book, the anti-dog-eat-dog law was a law designed to thwart the competitiveness of the efficient companies so the less efficient companies could compete. It embodied the antithesis of free-market competition.

And yet Missouri — a state that prides itself in liberty, innovation, free markets, and hard work — has an onerous anti-dog-eat-dog law residing in its code of state statutes.

That law, Sec. 393.135, RSMo, prohibits electric utilities from charging their customers for costs related to the cost of construction of power generating facilities until they are fully operational. The powerful 64-word statute became law in 1976. As was intended by its supporters at that time, it quashed plans for the construction of the second unit of the Callaway Generating Station. It has also deterred the construction of new nuclear power plants for the past 45 years, and if left in the statute, it will block new nuclear facilities in Missouri for the next 45 years.

Attempts to modify or remove 393.135 have been met with strong resistance from the solar and wind energy lobbies. Federal leverage and generous subsidies financed with tax dollars have made their lobby powerful.

Wind and solar energy will certainly play a significant role in our nation’s energy future, but their intermittency is a serious flaw. Clearly, they are now being propped up by an anti-dog-eat-dog law in Missouri.

Wind energy has become the renewable energy advocates’ first choice. Great Britain is a world leader in wind generating capacity. According to Wikipedia, Great Britain has 24.3 gigawatts (GW) of wind generating capacity — 13.9 GW onshore and 10.4 GW offshore. However, actual electric generation, not capacity, is what counts. So far in 2021, they have generated less than 2 GW for 22 percent of the time and less than 1 GW for 9 percent of the time. Looking for an explanation, some are claiming the wind on the island doesn’t blow as much as it used to. Paul Homewood, a retired British statistician noted: “It does not matter how much wind capacity you have. Naught percent of anything is still nothing.”

The great Texas freeze-up last winter made one thing abundantly clear: Electric generating facilities with “on-site” fuel storage are the bedrock of energy security. During the big freeze, natural gas power plants failed as pipeline pressures dropped. The fact that Texas is steeped in natural gas made no difference. On-site fuel storage makes coal-fired and nuclear power plants the most trustworthy and secure electric generating options. Coal is facing an army of frenzied opponents, making its future questionable.

Recent news headlines focused on the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (HR 3684). The $1 trillion plan has been duly adopted by Congress and signed by the president. Sec. 40321 of the act allocates $6 billion for infrastructure planning of micro and small modular nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe a state that has thumbed its nose at nuclear power since 1976 should expect to receive more than a few stale crumbs from that funding.

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission (MACC) is a bipartisan commission charged with protecting our state’s air quality. Nuclear power plants can generate electricity with zero traditional air pollutants and zero greenhouse gas emissions. As an advocate for clean air, the MACC has adopted, by a unanimous vote, a resolution asking the Missouri Legislature to address Section 393.135 and the intractable roadblock it creates for financing and construction of new nuclear power facilities.

Rep. John Black has responded to the need to unshackle the development of nuclear energy. HB 1684, sponsored by Black, could open the door to a more secure energy future for families and businesses across the state.

This piece originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2022 edition of The Missouri Times newspaper.