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LOCALLY GROWN: Renewed uncertainty over clean energy in Missouri

Friday, July 30, 2010 | 12:07 p.m. CDT; updated 9:07 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 6, 2010

Remember Proposition C? Not the health care exemption on next week’s ballot, but the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative that Missouri voters passed in November 2008 by a greater than two-thirds majority.

Casting my vote for the renewable energy measure made me feel confident in my choice to return to Missouri and excited about our energy future. Although Congress might not pass a national renewable energy standard next week, I can remain optimistic that both my city and state have one in place.

What was your impression?

Do you think the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative (Proposition C from November 2008) intended for the state to reach its renewable energy standard by producing power from within the state or transmitting from neighboring states?

 


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What’s happened since the initiative was passed?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data, Missouri counts on renewables for about 3 percent of its energy supply, and most of that comes from hydropower.

To comply with Proposition C, investor-owned utilities, which supply nearly 2 million Missourians with electricity, must generate or purchase an incrementally increasing amount of energy from renewable sources to reach 15 percent by 2021.

How and where that’s going to happen is still in question.

The Missouri Public Service Commission issued rules for the implementation of Proposition C at the beginning of June. The rules were the result of 16 months of stakeholder discussions involving utilities, renewable advocates and developers, industrial customers and consumer advocates. The PSC passed the rules by a 3-2 vote.

But the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules disapproved two paragraphs of the rules, subsection (2)(A) and paragraph (2)(B)2 — which deal with geographic sourcing of renewable energy.

The sections that JCAR disapproved would have required the utilities to purchase Missouri-generated renewable electricity or renewable power that could be delivered to Missouri customers.

“JCAR stripped out the most important part of Proposition C,” said PJ Wilson, co-director of Renew Missouri.

If the rule is accepted by the General Assembly, Missouri will be able to purchase renewable energy credits — energy not produced in Missouri and that does not flow to Missouri — from anywhere.

“I simply don’t believe that the voters intended that South American or European renewable energy credits would meet the state’s renewable energy standard,” said Robert Clayton III, chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission. 

According to supporters of the geographic-sourcing provisions, the essence of the legislation was not just to improve the state’s renewable energy portfolio, but also to generate Missouri jobs in the renewable energy industry — installing solar panels, windmills and biomass generators, for example.

A study by David Laslo, of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, found that the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative could create more than 22,000 new jobs and generate nearly $2 billion in new income.           

Without the geographic-sourcing requirement, there are no guarantees those jobs will be created here.

“The bill was called Clean Energy for Missouri. If Missouri’s going to enjoy clean energy, it’s got to be built in the state of Missouri,” said Vaughn Prost of Missouri Solar Applications.

An incentive for Missouri production remains in the rule, however. Renewable energy produced in state counts for an extra 25 percent, so 1 megawatt produced in state counts as 1.25 megawatts toward the renewable energy standard.  

Warren Wood, president of the Missouri Energy Development Association, said that’s a good cost-competitive incentive and that his members were all concerned about the geographic-sourcing requirements.  

Jeff Davis, a member of the Public Service Commission who voted against the rules, said he’s also concerned that requiring local renewable production will make it difficult to stay within the 1 percent rate increase cap that Proposition C placed on utilities when providing consumers with renewable energy.

What’s not being discussed are the externalized costs of fossil fuel power, such as the 24,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. attributed to fine particle pollution from power plants, according to a study by the Clean Air Task Force. But without climate change legislation, these costs will likely remain external.

So what’s next?

Starting Wednesday, stakeholders will come to the table again to try to find common ground on the portions of the rule in dispute. Clayton is optimistic that they can find a legislative fix that will satisfy everyone’s concerns.

“I think there’s room to find common ground that will encourage Missouri development and protect rate payers,” he said.

If a compromise is reached, they’ll present it to the legislature in January.

If not, and you want to build Missouri’s Energy Portfolio by developing wind, solar and biomass resources in state, urge your representative not to take action on JCAR’s rule when the General Assembly meets next January.

If no action is taken in 30 legislative days, the two paragraphs that were disallowed by JCAR get published — requiring the state to meet its renewable energy standard by producing renewable energy here or purchasing it regionally so that Missourians actually receive that energy.  

In the meantime, legislation is still pending at the national level that would fix the residential portion of the PACE bill that Gov. Nixon just signed.

The bottom line for renewables in Missouri right now: There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of uncertainty. Stay plugged in.

Michael Burden is a journalism graduate student at MU, a graduate instructor and the MU campus representative for the Peace Corps.

 


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