The House of Representatives voted 120-17-1 on May 24 to advance legislation that would authorize special electric rates for certain industrial users as an incentive to bring new jobs to Missouri. Bipartisan passage came only after lawmakers stripped a controversial provision championed by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens that would have made it significantly easier to electric monopolies to raise customer rates with the approval of state utility regulators.
House Bill 1 advances to the Senate, where several lawmakers of both parties had vowed to block it due to the now-removed provision, which they said would have harmed consumers. With that section gone, however, the bill could have a smoother path to final passage. The Senate was scheduled to debate the bill on May 25. If no changes are made to the House version, the bill would go to the governor. If the Senate alters the bill, it would return to the House for further consideration.
The legislation is primarily geared toward providing incentives for two separate projects in New Madrid County in the Bootheel. One is the potential reopening of the former Noranda Aluminum smelter, which closed in 2016, eliminating 900 high-paying jobs. The other proposal is for a small steel mill within the New Madrid city limits.
Under HB 1, the Missouri Public Service Commission could authorize Ameren Missouri to offer discounted electric rates for the facilities. Ameren’s other business and residential customers, who are heavily concentrated in the St. Louis metropolitan area, would pay for those subsidies through higher rates, which was a point of contention for many lawmakers.
Greitens took the unexpected step of calling lawmakers back for a special legislative session on the issue a week after the regular session ended. The New Madrid County job creation part of the bill was widely viewed by the legislation’s critics as a Trojan horse for the further deregulation of electric rates. Greitens has accepted $178,000 in disclosed donations from investor-owned utilities. That amount doesn’t include any secret and untraceable contributions the industry may have given to the governor’s “dark money” Committee, A New Missouri Inc., which has been promoting the bill and launching attacks against lawmakers who oppose the measure.