JEFFERSON CITY – Depending on whom you believe, state lawmakers are about to slap Missouri voters in the face – or rob them blind.
The Missouri Senate is poised to debate a resolution this week that would determine how and where certain utility companies can buy wind and solar power.
At issue is the fate of Proposition C, which voters passed with a two-thirds majority in November 2008. The proposition requires Ameren Missouri and other investor-owned utilities to start buying at least 2 percent of their energy portfolio from renewable energy sources this year. By 2021, the percentage rises to 15.
The law hasn’t been fully implemented because of a drawn-out regulatory process that requires the state Public Service Commission to write rules based on what voters passed. A legislative committee that reviews those rules tossed out one of them last year, and now lawmakers have to decide whether to pass a resolution that sides with the committee or to allow the PSC rule to stand.
“If you adopt the resolution, you will gut Proposition C,” said attorney Joe Maxwell, a former Missouri lieutenant governor who testified on behalf of a solar industry association.
The debate centers on where the renewable energy is purchased. The writers of Proposition C say their intent was that the energy be bought in Missouri or surrounding states, so that Missouri consumers actually receive the benefit of the use of wind or solar power. The rule passed by the PSC follows that philosophy.
But the utility companies, and some of the industrial consumers who fear their prices will rise, say Proposition C doesn’t require that. They want the utility companies to be able to buy the renewable energy on the open market, even if it means the energy merely shows up on the portfolio and never ends up in Missouri.
PSC member Jeff Davis was one of two commissioners, both Republicans, to vote against the new rule. He says that Missouri renewable energy companies are trying to ‘stick up” consumers by forcing them to pay higher rates for their product.
“What you are witnessing here is an attempted train robbery of consumers,” Davis told a House committee that passed the resolution 8-3 on Wednesday. “It will give the wind industry carte blanche to charge what they want to.”
The proposition, though, contains a 1 percent cap on an increase in electricity rates tied to the required purchase of renewable energy.
That is one reason why Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said utility companies have no room to complain. She said voters passed Proposition C because they wanted to encourage development of renewable energy jobs in Missouri.
Overturning the PSC rule would be ‘slapping the face of voters,” Schupp said.
Carnahan Wind Farms
The Proposition C debate is one of several examples of areas where the Republican-controlled Legislature is seeking to make changes to laws passed by voters in recent years.
The most prominent is the plan to seek a repeal of the new puppy mill regulations passed in November. Lawmakers also have filed a bill seeking to make changes to a minimum wage law passed in 2007.
The political context of the Proposition C battle takes a page out of the recent U.S. Senate race in Missouri in which Tom Carnahan’s wind farms in northwest Missouri became an issue. His St. Louis-based company, Wind Capital, would stand to benefit if the new rule required renewable energy to be purchased in the state, or in surrounding states so that it could realistically be transported to Missouri.
Carnahan, a Democrat, is the brother of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who lost the Senate race to Republican Roy Blunt.
During the race, Blunt criticized the Carnahans because the wind farm received more than $100 million in grants from the federal stimulus bill.
One of the writers of Proposition C, P.J. Wilson of Columbia, testified that the intent of the proposal was for the energy to come from Missouri, or at least come from nearby states and be transmitted here.
Wilson and other supporters of the proposition said the debate was over jobs.
“Do you want jobs in the state or do you want jobs in New Mexico?” asked Henry Rentz of Hermann, a solar energy company owner.
The first television ad for Proposition C seems to back Wilson’s testimony on what the intent of the initiative was. The ad talks about creating “new businesses, new industry, right here in Missouri.”
That was the whole point of the campaign, Wilson said, to make Missouri, the 13th-highest wind producing state in the nation, a magnet for renewable energy businesses and jobs.
When resolution sponsor Rep. Jason Smith, R-Rolla, asked Wilson why he didn’t write the proposition that way, Wilson was quick with a response.
“We did,” he said.
But utility companies disagree. They seek the right to purchase “renewable energy certificates,” which are basically tradable pieces of paper that represent renewable energy being produced somewhere in the world.
If lawmakers pass the resolution they are considering, Ameren Missouri and the state’s other two investor-owned utilities could buy the energy certificates in California or elsewhere at a lower cost.
They argued Wednesday that the wording of Proposition C allows that, and that the PSC overstepped its bounds by trying to create an additional rule that voters didn’t want. The proposition already has an incentive that allows renewable energy purchased in Missouri to be counted at a rate 25 percent higher than energy bought out of state.
To overturn the PSC rule, lawmakers have to pass the resolution in the first month of the session. Even if they don’t do that, they could still seek to adjust Proposition C with other legislation.
The measures are HCR5 in the House and SCR1 in the Senate.
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