JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House on Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that supporters say would bring hundreds of jobs to the southeast corner of the state by allowing manufacturers that use a lot of electricity to negotiate lower rates than the law currently allows. But critics say it would force […]
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House on Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that supporters say would bring hundreds of jobs to the southeast corner of the state by allowing manufacturers that use a lot of electricity to negotiate lower rates than the law currently allows. But critics say it would force average utilities consumers to bear the burden of the lower rates.
After nearly five hours of debate, representatives approved the measure 125-15. If approved again in a final vote later Wednesday, it would head to the Senate.
The proposal is meant to entice a steel company to come to the southeast corner of the state where the closure of a Noranda aluminum smelter last year caused more than 900 people to lose their jobs. A Switzerland-based company has purchased the old Noranda plant and expressed interest in reopening part of it.
The two new companies combined could create up to 500 jobs. But they won’t operate in Missouri unless they have a special electricity rate, said Rep. Don Rone, who sponsored the bill.
The original legislation would’ve only allowed aluminum smelters and steel-works facilities to negotiate lower electricity rates for longer contracts of service than are allowed under current law. But lawmakers expanded the measure during a floor debate to include all facilities that use more than 50 megawatts of electricity a month — that’s nearly five times the amount that the average U.S. residential customer used all year in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Rone said in a committee hearing that a proposed steel mill would use 50 to 60 megawatts of electricity a month, and the aluminum smelter would use 180-190 megawatts.
The electricity for the two companies would likely be delivered by the state’s largest electricity provider, Ameren Missouri. But critics said the lower rates for the larger companies would cause increased monthly rates for households and smaller businesses across the state.
“We’re going to raise monthly utilities rates for Ameren customers to pay for something that benefits one part of the state,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, a Democrat from Olivette.
The proposal seems likely to receive final approval in the House. It would then move to the Senate, where a similar proposal stalled before the May 12 deadline for passing bills during the regular session. Some senators voiced concern over an added provision that critics said would allow investor-owned utility companies to more easily increase rates and receive compensation for projects like electrical grid improvements. That amendment was removed during a Tuesday committee hearing to ease opposition from senators who could filibuster and effectively block the plan.
The proposal has also been supported by Gov. Eric Greitens, who called the special session. Greitens joined a rally Tuesday outside the Capitol where about 200 people gathered holding blue signs that said, “Fighting for jobs!” and “Got your back.” Attendees then followed the governor inside the building, where they pasted signs on the doors of senators who opposed the previous measure over concerns about higher electricity rates for average customers.