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At PSC hearing, Grain Belt hearings set, no discussion of electric rate adjustment case

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Wednesday’s Public Service Commission agenda meeting highlighted statewide hearings regarding the Grain Belt Express Clean Line. The first of the public meetings were held Thursday in Monroe City and Hannibal and they will continue into September.

Grain Belt Express proposed route
Grain Belt Express proposed route

Grain Belt Express is seeking a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct, own, operate and maintain a high voltage, direct current transmission line and associated facilities within Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls counties in Missouri as well as an associated converter station in Ralls County.  According to the application, approximately 206 miles of a high voltage, direct current (“HVDC”) transmission line will traverse the state of Missouri from Kansas into Illinois and Indiana.

The local public hearing meetings regarding Grain Belt Express will be:

•   August 14, 2014—Marceline.  Walsworth Community Center, 124 East Ritchie.

•   August 14, 2014—Moberly.  Moberly City Auditorium, 201 West Rollins.

•   September 3, 2014—Cameron.  Cameron Community Center, 219 Ashland Avenue.  The local public hearing will begin at 11:00 a.m.

•   September 3, 2014—St. Joseph.  Moila Shriners Ballroom, 701 North Noyes Blvd.   The local public hearing will begin at 6:00 p.m.

•   September 4, 2014—Hamilton.  Hamilton Community Arts Theatre, ER Penney Drive.  The local public hearing will begin at 11:00 a.m.

•   September 4, 2014—Carrollton.  Rupe Community Center, 710 Harvest Hills Drive.  The local public hearing will begin at 6:00 p.m.

Formal evidentiary hearings are scheduled for November 10, 12-14 and 21, 2014.

Also during Wednesday’s agenda meeting, cases of tariffs and new orders, including Gene Koverman v. Missouri-American Water Company and two cases regarding Lincoln County Sewer & Water, were addressed. Koverman has filed 8 complaints against Missouri-American Water, in the past 8 years.

Cases discussed included Hickory Hills Water & Sewer Company and Summit Natural Gas of Missouri, Inc. The Summit Natural Gas case will have an evidentiary hearing at 9:00am on August 18 regarding their case for revised tariffs.

The ongoing Noranda rate relief case was not discussed, but on Monday, a petition sought by United for Missouri to file a brief as amicus curiae was granted. There was no opposition to the petition. Amicus curiae, literally meaning “friend of the court” in Latin, allows relevant information to be submitted by a party that is not affiliated with the case at hand.

United for Missouri had previously been denied a request to officially enter the case and is in conflict with a letter previously written to House leadership promising they would not be involved supporting or opposing the case. They have previously written a blog posting supporting Ameren and opposing the coalition of commercial and industrial groups that support the adjustment.

In other issues related to the rate adjustment case, Noranda issued a press release Monday recapping their second quarter earnings call which stated, “We have joined with consumer groups that represent all Missouri electricity consumers in supporting the compromise rate structure filed by the Missouri Office of Public Counsel (the ‘OPC’) because we believe it is an acceptable outcome in our rate design petition. We believe this proposed rate structure will provide much needed urgent relief from unsustainable power rates and will support Noranda’s liquidity for the next five years. We trust the Missouri Public Service Commission (the ‘PSC’) process and trust the PSC will make the appropriate decision with respect to the OPC’s proposed rate structure and will protect New Madrid from the consequences that have come to other smelters unable to remedy unsustainable power rates.”

“As we await a decision by the PSC in our petition for a sustainable electricity rate for the New Madrid aluminum smelter, we continue our intense focus on preserving liquidity,” the statement continued. “Unsustainable power rates and low LME aluminum prices have created a drain on our cash and liquidity throughout 2013 and into 2014. Recent favorable volatility in aluminum prices is encouraging but not enough; the fact remains that the power rate for New Madrid is today the second highest of the nine smelters remaining in the United States, and no aluminum smelter can survive with an unsustainable power rate.”

This is on the heels of Mike Bless, the President and CEO of Century Aluminum Company – the only aluminum smelter who pays more per megawatt hour for electricity, told a Goldman Sachs analyst that if they could not obtain a lower cost for electricity that they “were prepared to shut down the smelter operations if the power price does not come to their expectations.”

Commissioners Robert Kenney, Bill Kenney, and Scott Rupp were present at the Wainwright Building, while Commissioner Steve Stoll was present via phone. The next agenda meeting will take place Wednesday at noon.