JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri utility companies on Wednesday asked lawmakers to change state law to help them pay for infrastructure improvements, a proposal that drew broad opposition from consumer advocates and companies such as Wal-Mart.
Republican Sen. Ed Emery said his bill would allow the utilities to more quickly recoup costs for infrastructure improvements. Ameren Missouri and other utilities argued it could lead to an uptick in consumption, potentially lowering rates across the board.
"It promotes growth and jobs throughout Missouri and enables our infrastructure to be modernized, all within the current Public Service Commission framework," Kansas City Power and Light lobbyist Jason Klindt told a Senate committee.
Critics slammed the bill as helping utility companies at the expense of consumers, who are expected to see higher energy bills if the measure becomes law. Proponents and opponents disagree on how much higher.
Consumer opponents ranged from Wal-Mart, who said higher utility bills will hurt business, to the Consumers Council of Missouri.
Sen. Gary Romine noted the additional customer costs to help pay for infrastructure would be on top of regular rate increases. He slammed it as a tax.
Utilities have to submit detailed rate requests and justify their costs to the Public Service Commission, which then has granted what the commission thought were "reasonable and just" rates, usually covering some but not all the request.
Emery said unlike a similar bill that failed last year, his proposal is intended to maintain the commission's oversight of cost hikes. He said he'll likely amend the bill to limit rate hikes.