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PSC chairman tries to withdraw rule on wind power; Senate says no thanks

JEFFERSON CITY – In a last-ditch attempt to avoid being overturned by the Missouri Legislature, the chairman of the Public Service Commission offered to withdraw a controversial rule about renewable energy today, but he was rebuffed by the state Senate.

Robert Clayton, chairman of the PSC, wrote lawmakers today asking them to delay voting on two resolutions that would overturn a rule regarding the purchase of solar and wind power by investor-owned utilities.

The rule, created as a result of 2008’s voter-approved Proposition C, would require purchase of renewable energy from Missouri companies, or those in surrounding states. A legislative committee, however, sided with utility companies who said the rule went too far.

This afternoon, with no discussion or even a mention of Clayton’s letter, the Senate easily passed a resolution that endorses the decision by the legislative committee. If the House passes a similar resolution, it would go to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk for his signature.

Supporters of Proposition C say that the legislative action will gut the proposal because utility companies will be able to buy renewable energy from anywhere in the world, even if it doesn’t ever make its way to the state. Utility executives say that’s what the proposition allows, and it would be less expensive for consumers that way.

In his letter, Clayton told lawmakers that he would schedule a meeting for Wednesday for the PSC to withdraw the rule.

Senators decided to ignore his request, however, over concerns that the PSC didn’t have the legal authority to withdraw the rule at this point in the debate, said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Peters, the majority floor leader of the Senate.

For the Legislature, the debate is partly about the balance of power. When state agencies make rules, they are reviewed by a joint committee of lawmakers, which in most cases either approves the rules or asks that they be withdrawn and re-written.

It’s rare that the joint committee overturns a rule, but when it happens, even lawmakers who might disagree with the committee’s decision tend to support the legislative process.

In the joint committee that considered the new PSC rule, for instance, Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, voted in favor of the PSC rule. But Ridgeway is also the sponsor of the bill that now seeks to overturn the rule.

After the Senate vote, Ridgeway said she believed it was important for the Legislature to uphold its role in the rule-making process. But she also said that she had come to believe that her fellow lawmakers were probably right to overturn the PSC rule.