In his January 7th Letter to the Editor, Ron Boyer – seemingly on behalf of the Department of Natural Resource’s Missouri Air Conservation Commission (MACC) – posits there’s something “rotten in the state of Denmark” regarding a ballot initiative proposal filed with the Secretary of State’s office to increase the renewable energy standards (RES) set for privately-owned electric utilities. While reasonable minds can disagree on whether certain power sources can be defined as “renewable” or what’s an acceptable amount, it is interesting to read this commentary in light of Mr. Boyer’s December 19, 2019 editorial on nuclear power and why Missouri must increase the utilities’ ability to invest in that form of energy production.
Mr. Boyer argues that a Missouri ballot measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1976 should be overturned. That ballot initiative prohibited electric utilities to charge ratepayers for construction on power plants not yet completed and not yet put into use. He was a driving force in getting the MACC to sign a resolution supporting the change in this law and has been vocal in the press as to see the will of voters vetoed by the Legislature.
The 1976 vote was seen as a repudiation of the excessive costs and resources needed by utility companies to invest in nuclear power plants – which often take years to construct and cost billions of dollars. That’s before you factor in the operation and maintenance of such plants.
Is nuclear power a viable option? It certainly produces less emission than coal. So that’s good. But at what cost? In Ohio, the Republican Legislature voted to stick ratepayers with a $150 million PER YEAR bill to ensure one of its nuclear power plants didn’t drive its utility companies into bankruptcy. In South Carolina ratepayers are now stuck with paying for a $9 billion nuclear power plant that won’t even get completed. Customers will be paying that off for decades without a watt of power to use. There’s a nuclear power plant in Georgia that’s years behind schedule and has seen its initial budget double from $14 billion to $28 billion. Under Georgia law (the very same type of law Mr. Boyer advocates for in his December editorial), ratepayers will foot this expense whether it gets done or not.
Utility companies can still pursue nuclear power. They just have to finish the projects and make them operational before recouping their costs from ratepayers. That’s the law now and has worked well for over 40 years.
Not to mention issues like plant safety and nuclear waste. Mr. Boyer is a farmer from Fair Grove. I was born and raised on a farm in Elkland, only a few miles away. In fact, my family still runs that farm. If I had to take a poll of landowners in between those two towns, I would bet more of them would prefer a wind turbine or solar panel in their back yard rather than a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste.
My suggestion is: Let the will of the voters stand on saying no to costly nuclear plants and let the voters have an up and down vote on increasing the renewable energy standard. Nothing very “radical” about that.
James Owen is the Executive Director of Renew Missouri, a 501(c)(3) committed to renewable energy and efficiency policy. Prior to this, James was Public Counsel for the State of Missouri where he served as the ratepayer advocate before the Public Service Commission.