Advocates for utilities, energy consumers back new Nixon energy push

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon announced a new initiative Tuesday to develop a “comprehensive energy plan for Missouri,” an idea which gained support from stakeholders that most often find themselves on the opposite side of energy issues.

Speaking in Columbia, Nixon announced the new Division of Energy within the Missouri Department of Economic Development to “solicit input from energy stakeholders including consumers, businesses, public utilities, renewable energy companies, academic researchers and environmental advocates.”

“Today it is clear that meeting our need for clean, affordable, abundant energy in the future will require a diverse energy portfolio and a strategic approach,” Nixon said. “That is why I am charging our Division of Energy with leading the development of a comprehensive energy plan that will engage stakeholders throughout the state and chart a course toward a sustainable and prosperous energy future.”

The new office will be led by Lewis R. Mills, has led the Office of Public Counsel. Kristy Manning, who has served as Nixon’s deputy legislative director, will be the department’s deputy director of policy.

The appointment of Mills was praised by the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund, which advocates on behalf of industrial energy consumers. Most recently, Mills had advocated on behalf of one of FERAF’s supporters, Noranda, in its recent rate relief case against Ameren Missouri at the Missouri Public Service Commission.

“Lewis Mills has been a tireless consumer advocate leading the Office of Public Counsel and will be missed. His courage and hard work have helped save Missouri consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.” said Chris Roepe, executive director of FERAF. “We appreciate that Lewis brings the insight, wisdom and understanding of the consumers’ perspective he has demonstrated for nineteen years in the public counsel’s office to his new mandate to develop a state energy plan.”

Irl Scissors, executive director of Missourians for A Balanced Energy Future (an organization advocating on behalf of the utility industry), said he supports Nixon’s effort to refocus on energy development, particularly upgrading aging energy infrastructure, but that the most pressing concern for one of MBEF’s largest supporters, Ameren, is dismissal or a ruling in the company’s favor on the rate case.

“Of immediate concern though is the massive rate-shift sought by Noranda Aluminum which would shift a half a billion dollars onto the backs of Missouri residents and businesses. There is no greater threat to Missouri’s energy consumers than this current claim,” he said.

Companies like Walmart and localities like the City of St. Louis have raised concerns with Noranda’s case that reduction in Noranda’s rates would necessarily shift nearly $500 million in costs over the next decade to other ratepayers. Noranda, noting that aluminum prices have diminished aluminum while their rates have stayed the same, said that they need a rate reduction to remain viable. They also allege that Ameren is exceeding its allowed earnings.

Noranda has received support from some consumer groups concerned about the even larger potential impact on ratepayers that could happen if Noranda were to leave Ameren, entirely.

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