Cap and trade bill: Fix it or kill it
It’s not often that you find all of Missouri’s electric utilities — cooperative, municipal and investor-owned — agreeing on something. That’s why a recent letter sent to legislators caught the attention of so many people.
No less than eight logos certified the cover page of the letter, and it was signed by the same number of CEOs, including Associated Electric Cooperative’s Jim Jura and myself. No one I know could ever remember seeing so many utilities united in this way.
The historic document shared the common concerns of all the state’s utilities about the likely impact of climate change legislation being considered now by the U.S. Senate.
While the document included 10 pages, numerous charts and a whole bunch of data, its message was simple, clear and indisputable: If climate change legislation passes in its current form, the price all Missourians pay for electricity will dramatically increase.
“We believe this legislation will cause our customers to pay rate increases averaging between 12 percent and 26 percent starting in 2012 with the potential to reach as much as 50 percent should the utilities be forced to switch from coal to natural gas,” the letter related.
Some Missourians could eventually see 77 percent rate increases caused by the bill if passed, a study made by the utilities showed.
Because Missouri and other states in the Midwest have historically relied on coal for most of their power generation, consumers and businesses here could experience the highest rate increases in the nation under the Waxman-Markey bill recently passed by the U.S. House.
That bill, also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, would force many costly changes on the state’s utilities. To comply, we would have to make major changes to our generation fleet, buy more expensive low- or zero-emission power and switch fuels in existing plants, on top of the energy efficiency programs already in place to reduce demand for electricity.
Even after taking these costly steps, we would still be forced to purchase carbon allowances in an uncertain market driven high by Wall Street speculators and out-of-state utilities that don’t need them and don’t care about keeping electricity affordable in the Show-Me State.
It would be possible for Missouri’s electric utilities to turn their backs on consumers and simply pass along these new expenses in the form of massive rate increases. But no one signing this letter has a heart that cold. Because you own the cooperative, in our case those costs would be passed back to the owners.
The people in charge of ensuring affordable, reliable electricity for Missouri know that most Missourians cannot afford this kind of rate shock. This bill, crafted by legislators in East- and West-Coast states such as California and Massachusetts that already have sky-high rates and unreliable power, would kill jobs in the Midwest where family incomes are well below the national average.
With debate about to begin in the Senate, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association launched a campaign to send a clear message to senators on this issue. Missouri consumers once again responded, sending thousands of cards to Sen. Kit Bond and Sen. Claire McCaskill urging them to work with electric cooperatives to craft climate change legislation that is fair, affordable and achievable.
Along with my counterparts in other states, I will hand deliver these cards to the senators. I will tell them that legislation must be fair and affordable — or defeated.
During these troubled times, I believe keeping electric bills affordable ought to be a high national priority. If you agree with me, keep those postcards coming. If you need some for your neighbors, go by your local electric co-op office.
The economic future for all Missourians soon will be decided in the U.S. Senate, and we need Sen. Bond and Sen. McCaskill to put Missouri and you first.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.