Photo: Webster-Kirkwood Times.

Consumers and environmentalists were “loaded for bear” for a public hearing at the Holiday Inn Southwest in late January before the state Public Service Commission (PSC) on planned electric rate hikes by Ameren Missouri.

Environmentalists like Andy Knott of the Beyond Coal Campaign were ready with news of a Jan. 23 court decision finding Ameren in violation of the Clean Air Act at its Rush Island coal plant in Jefferson County. That plant, and the nearby Meramec Plant in Oakville, have been sources of health concerns in South County.

By Don Corrigan

“This is the latest example of Ameren thumbing its nose at the law and prioritizing profit over public health,”  said Knott. “Ameren has violated the Clean Air Act and continues to rely on old, outdated coal plants instead of cleaning them up or investing in cheap, clean energy that also creates jobs.”

On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri issued a decision holding Ameren Missouri liable for violations of the Clean Air Act at the Rush Island plant.

On behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice sued Ameren in 2011 for violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions, after Ameren made major upgrades to boilers at the 41-year old Rush Island plant.

Those upgrades increased emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2).  Ameren should have applied for a permit for those upgrades, which would have required it to install pollution controls to reduce SO2 emissions, according to Knott.

Short-term exposure to SO2 can harm the respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to SO2. A 2010 report by the Clean Air Task Force estimated air pollution just from the Rush Island plan contributes to 40 premature deaths, 61 heart attacks and 670 asthma attacks per year.

Chief Judge Rodney Sippel’s court order on Monday states: “I conclude the United States has established that Ameren should have expected, and did expect, the projects at Rush Island to increase unit availability … which enabled Ameren to run its units more, generate more electricity, and emit significantly more pollution….As a result, I conclude that the United States has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Ameren violated…the Clean Air Act.”

Judge Sippel also stated that he would be entering a finding of liability against Ameren in the case and would set a status conference to establish remedies for the violations.

Consumer Complaints

Members of AARP, Sierra Club and Consumers Council of Missouri  (CCM) are concerned about pollution issues and proposed rate hikes. Sierra Club assembled more than 1,000 comments collected on line opposing the utility rate increase at this week’s Sunset Hills PSC hearing and several more.

“We have hundreds of personalized comments, many expressing concern about Ameren’s lack of clean energy and its continual rate hikes,” said Sara Edgar of Sierra.

Among comments from Kirkwood, Webster Groves and South County:
•I already pay a preposterous amount of money for electric. You need more money? Drop your CEO’s pay.
•I liked your solar credits, raise them back up, please.
•Please reject this rate hike, as it does not involve a rapid transition to renewable energy. Thanks for your consideration.
•Your electric bill was about as much as my mortgage. Another rate increase will just about make me sell my home. Is there anything we (you) can do to stop this rate increase please!
•Please help seniors and low-income families who are on limited incomes.

According to CCM Director Cara Spencer, Ameren Missouri has filed a 7.8 percent overall electric rate increase request with an 8.29 percent hike for residential customers. A portion of the increase package includes a utility access charge. The “customer charge” would remain the same at $8, but would add a $4.89 system access charge” for a total fixed fee of $12.89, representing a 61 percent increase, according to Spencer.

Warren Wood, vice president for external affairs and communications for Ameren Missouri, has disputed the CCM figures for the utility hike.

“The energy grid access charge can’t be viewed by itself because it is accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the cost of each unit of used electricity, so it wouldn’t impact an average customers’ overall bill,” said Wood. “Under the grid access charge approach, customers would actually pay a bit less during months of unusually cold or hot weather.”

Several more hearing are scheduled in Missouri before a decision is made on the $206.4 electric rate increase later this year.

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