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New TV ad launched to discourage change in state's utility law

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 9, 2018 - A statewide ad campaign has been launched by one of the groups opposed to Ameren's efforts to change Missouri's ban on charging utility customers for the construction of projects before they are completed.

The director for the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund, known as FERAF for short, says it is running the ad on cable stations statewide, and will do so "indefinitely."

The target, though, is not so much Ameren as the Missouri General Assembly, which this session may consider a bill, HB 1316, that would allow utilities to charge for the construction projects while they are underway.

The bill would do away with a 35-year-old state law barring such changes. The aim of the measure is encourage the construction of a new Ameren nuclear plant, sought by business and labor.

The bill has opponents and supporters in both political parties. The sponsor is state Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, who is also House assistant majority leader.

The supporters include, at least in principle, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who told the Beacon a month agothat the existing ban is "holding back energy choices for Missourians because it makes it impossible for utility companies to make the investments they need to make to keep energy cheap for the long haul."

Ameren and its allies also note that Missouri has among the cheapest electrical rates in the country.

The author of the 1976 law, known as the ban on CWIP (construction while in progress), is environmentalist Kay Drey, who has been more vocal lately in defending it.

FERAF contends that Ameren doesn't need the money to finance construction. "HB 1316 is plain and simple a bailout for Ameren," said Chris Roepe, FERAF director.  "This piece of legislation creates zero jobs, zero energy and zero opportunities to build a new nuclear plant. Missouri businesses and residents will pay $115 million out of their own pockets and get nothing in return and absolutely no guarantee to ever see a dime of that money back."

Many of the assertions also are in the new ad.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.