Missouri creates 'hot weather' rule, affirms Aquila plant status

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. _ Missourians struggling to pay their bills will have some help staying cool during hot summer months.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has signed legislation that bars electric or natural gas companies from shutting off service when the temperature is likely to rise above 95 degrees or the heat index above 105 degrees within 24 hours. Utilities also couldn't disconnect service when someone isn't available to reconnect it.

The new "hot weather rule" will operate similar to the existing "cold weather rule" that blocks utilities from cutting off service to delinquent households between March and November when the temperature is forecast to fall below 32 degrees.

Kinder, who has gubernatorial authority until next week while Gov. Matt Blunt is out of state, signed the "hot weather rule" bill last week. He held a public ceremony Monday in suburban St. Louis.

The lieutenant governor said in a written statement that legislation would help the sick, elderly and disabled who are particularly affected by hot weather.

"In extreme weather, vulnerable Missourians are put at risk," Kinder said.

The legislation signed by Kinder also allows Missouri regulators to retroactively approve a Cass County power plant that Kansas City-based Aquila Inc. built without local zoning approval in 2005. A state trial judge and appeals court had ordered Aquila to tear down the $140 million plant after the county sued.

After a state appeals court sided against Aquila, the Missouri Public Service Commission voted in 2006 to authorize the plant. But the courts ruled that state utility regulators must approve power plants before construction starts.

The plant near Peculiar is used during high-use periods, such as hot summer days when people are running their air conditioners. It has enough capacity to serve 52,000 homes.

Other parts of that bill require that computer makers selling products in Missouri submit a plan for recycling obsolete computers and increase the state assistance that low-income people can get to pay heating or cooling bills to $800 annually, instead of $600.

Kinder also had signed a separate economic development bill that expands the caps on several business tax incentive programs.

Blunt last week already signed legislation that adds an extra $20 million — raising the total to $60 million annually — to the tax credits that can be awarded under the state Quality Jobs program for businesses that provide above-average wages and pay for their workers' health insurance.

Lawmakers included an identical provision in the other bill that Kinder signed. The legislation also expands the tax credits available for businesses in specially designated enhanced enterprise zones from $14 million to $24 million.