Date: February 7th, 2024
To: Chairman Bromley and members of the Utilities Committee
From: Trina Ragain, Lead Policy Strategist, Empower Missouri
Re: Opposition to HB 1435, HB 1804 and HB 2541

Empower Missouri, established in 1901, stands as the largest anti-poverty advocacy organization in our state. Central to our mission is the convening of a statewide Affordable Housing Coalition, uniting individuals and organizations committed to ensuring every Missourian has access to safe, affordable, and stable housing. On behalf of our staff, board, and coalition members, we strongly urge you to vote NO on HB 1435, HB 1804, and HB 2541, which propose raising Missouri electric rates to fund power plant construction costs.

Passage of these bills would exacerbate our state’s already acute housing instability and homelessness crisis. Economically vulnerable households are grappling with escalating living expenses, often forced to make the difficult choices between necessities such as food, rent, and utilities. This burden disproportionately affects the 27% of Missouri renter households classified as extremely low income (ELI), surviving on 30% or less of the area median income and teetering on the brink of homelessness. Alarmingly, ninety-one percent of these households are already part of the workforce, elderly, disabled, students, or single caregivers, underscoring the pervasive impact of this crisis.

Energy, a fundamental necessity, is a critical component of rental payments. Escalating utility costs can swiftly lead to disconnections and subsequent evictions. ELI households already face a disproportionate energy burden, allocating 6% or more of their income solely to energy costs. Although many attempt to catch up during non-peak months, increased expenses will render this increasingly challenging, if not unattainable for some. Furthermore, small businesses may also struggle to maintain current on their
utility bills.

Despite decades of weatherization and bill-payment initiatives, low-income households continue to bear a disproportionate burden of energy costs. This disparity is particularly pronounced in low income, minority and rural Missouri communities, notably Decatur, Van Buren, Putnam, Scotland, Knox, Monroe, Benton, Hickory, Wayne, and Ozark counties, where energy burdens exceed 6% for ELI households.

The proposed Construction-Work-In-Progress (CWIP) mechanism permits utilities to pre-charge consumers for power plant construction, often before operational viability is established. Examples from Georgia and South Carolina underscore the risks associated with this approach, with consumers shouldering billions in expenses for projects that ultimately failed to deliver electricity.

Missourians, particularly our most vulnerable, should not bear the burden of financing speculative power plant ventures. Missouri voters have already weighed in on this issue by overwhelmingly rejecting CWIP through a voter-led initiative in 1976. Utilities must assume responsibility for their investments rather than shifting risk onto consumers.

We implore you to prioritize the well-being of struggling Missouri families by rejecting policies that escalate energy costs, inevitably leading to evictions and homelessness. We urge you to stand with them by voting NO on HB 1435, HB 1804, and HB 2541.

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