JEFFERSON CITY – Supporters of renewable energy are threatening to sue the state or put a referendum before voters in the wake of changes the Missouri Legislature made to a law approved by voters in 2008.
P.J. Wilson, director of clean-energy advocate Renew Missouri, said the Legislature ignored the will of voters when it decided to strip the law of one of its most important provisions – a mandate that utilities meet a renewable energy requirement by either generating power in-state or by importing it from sources in surrounding states that deliver power into Missouri.
The goal was to ensure that Missouri consumers receive the benefit of the use of wind or solar power.
Three years ago, Proposition C was approved with 66 percent of the vote. It required the state’s four investor-owned electric utilities to buy or generate 2 percent of electricity from renewable fuels starting this year, an amount that would gradually increase to 15 percent by 2021.
Utilities and consumer groups argued that the geographic limitation would have driven up electric rates, and a legislative committee struck down the provision last year. That decision was confirmed by the full Legislature in January.
The change opened the door for utilities to purchase renewable energy certificates on the open market, even if the energy never makes its way to Missouri.
“Essentially, our electric rates go up without [Missouri utilities] actually producing any energy or jobs in Missouri,” Wilson said. “They made it worse than if there was no law at all.”
Wilson said Renew Missouri reluctantly supported legislation this year to reform the law and strike a compromise with utility companies. But since that effort failed, he said, other options have to be considered.
That could mean another ballot petition, although Wilson said there is concern the Legislature could once again alter or eliminate the law entirely. If that’s the case, the group is also considering asking voters to amend the state’s constitution, a tactic that would take more effort to get on a ballot but would be incredibly difficult to undue.
Lastly, and perhaps in conjunction with a new ballot measure, the group could file a lawsuit challenging the legislative committee’s decision on the geographic restrictions.
“We never imagined things would get so screwed up by the Legislature,” Wilson said. “What choice do we have?”
Wilson said the group will be meeting with supporters around the state this month before deciding on a course of action.
“We want to see if Missouri voters would still come out in support of this measure,” Wilson said. “And if we think they will, and if our supporters are willing to go out again and work for this, then we will go back to the ballot in 2012.”
The bill aimed at striking a compromise – drafted by state Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City – would have cut the mandate on utilities to 7 percent of electricity from renewable fuels by 2020. In exchange, it would have restored the geographic restriction on where renewable energy can be purchased in the hopes of keeping the projects and associated jobs in Missouri.
If the measure had passed, it would have guaranteed Missouri “a coal-sized plant of renewable energy over the next decade,” Holsman said. “That means a vast array of economic development, including sales, installation, service and manufacturing jobs for Missouri. It means not having to worry about EPA regulations or adjusted fuel costs for the investment.”
The compromise legislation took four months to put together, went through 22 drafts and looked to have the backing of large industrial companies, environmental groups and utilities, Holsman said.
However, Holsman said, utility companies, led by Ameren Missouri, eventually insisted his bill be attached to legislation that would have allowed them to charge consumers for the costs incurred in obtaining an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It became evident by the end of the session that my bill would not pass without the early site permit bill passing first,” Holsman said.
Negotiations on the nuclear legislation continued on until the final hour of the session, when an apparent deal was struck but a vote was never taken due to time constraints. Ameren has since publicly distanced itself from the last-minute deal, saying it couldn’t support the legislation as written.
Without a compromise on the nuclear bill, Holsman said, utilities made it clear the renewable energy bill would not pass. The bill contained a $100,000 annual cap on rate increases for the state’s largest energy consumers, such as Anheuser-Busch and Noranda Aluminum.
“Utility companies were using it as leverage in their negotiations over the nuclear bill,” Holsman said.
In a written statement to the Post-Dispatch, Ameren Missouri praised Holsman’s efforts in crafting the Prop C reforms but said it hasn’t taken a position regarding whether to support his bill in the future.
Renew Missouri’s Wilson says the state should look to Colorado, where in 2007 voters approved a renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015. In the years since, lawmakers have increased that standard to 30 percent by 2020. The state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy Inc., announced last month that it will meet that goal by the middle of 2012, eight years ahead of the 2020 deadline.