Missouri initiative seeks to increase renewable energy

Monday, December 19, 2011 | 4:01 p.m. CST; updated 4:07 p.m. CST, Monday, December 19, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — A newly proposed Missouri ballot initiative seeks to increase the amount electricity coming from renewable energy sources while giving new power to the state's official consumer advocate to make sure the standards are implemented.

The measure would enhance a renewable energy mandate enacted by Missouri voters in 2008. If it is approved for circulation and garners enough petition signatures, it would appear on the 2012 ballot.

But the initiative already is sparking some controversy.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has asked Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to recuse her office from its duty of writing a summary for the initiative because Carnahan's younger brother is an investor in wind energy production. A Carnahan spokesman said the request would be reviewed but dismissed concerns of an apparent conflict of interest.

"This office has always followed our legal obligation to provide Missourians with fair and sufficient summaries of ballot initiatives," Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said.

A renewable energy advocate submitted a proposed ballot initiative in October to Carnahan's office. But PJ Wilson, the director of Renew Missouri, said Monday that he withdrew that original proposal because of technical problems in how it was drafted.

A revised proposal was submitted last week. Like the October proposal, it would require investor-owned utilities in Missouri to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2026 — an increase over the current threshold of 15 percent by 2021. The measure also would require them to use the renewable energy in Missouri — an attempt to avoid scenarios in which Missouri power companies purchase renewable energy credits for electricity produced and sold in other states.

Wilson said the latest proposal gives the state Office of Public Counsel the authority to serve as a watchdog for enforcement of the renewable energy standards and requires utilities to finance the office's operation — a funding model that has been repeatedly proposed in the state Legislature but has failed to pass.

Barnes, who is chairman of the House Interim Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, said Carnahan has an "ethical duty" to abstain from carrying out her office's legal duties of writing the summary that would appear atop the initiative petitions and ballot. He noted that her brother, Tom Carnahan, is the founder and chairman of Wind Capital Group.

"This renewable energy mandate would have a direct and incredibly lucrative impact on hundreds of millions of dollars of investment by a close family member of Robin Carnahan," Barnes said. "If Robin Carnahan values fair government, she will immediately recuse herself and her office completely from this petition process."

No similar complaint was raised in 2008, when Carnahan's office wrote the summary for the renewable energy ballot initiative that ultimately passed with 66 percent of the vote.

Wilson said he sees no reason for Carnahan not to write the summary for the latest initiative. He described Barnes' request as "a tactical move by someone that might not want this to succeed."

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Derrick Fogle December 19, 2011 | 6:29 p.m.

This is likely to happen anyway. Total lifetime KwH cost of solar is closing in on coal, and there's no reason to think it won't start undercutting coal costs within the next 5 years.

FirstSolar, one of the bigger players in the US market, works with corporate titans like Google and Wal-Mart, as well as US Army installations, to provide a range of solar installations for a monthly lease cost similar to current electricity rates.

I point out the military installations, because whether or not you consider dependence on foreign oil a problem, the military certainly does. They are working to develop "drop-in" algea-based fuel production for marine applications, and are already converting domestic military bases to solar so that they can keep operating, even if nobody else can.

We've still got a long way to go on solar, but it remains the only power source that can completely replace fossil fuel in the US, with capacity to spare. That doesn't mean we shouldn't augment with other energy sources like wind and geothermal; diversifying energy production is a good thing. Developing solar and other renewable energy would be even faster and easier, and create domestic jobs and energy security, if we would really get behind this emerging energy technology, instead of fighting it tooth and nail to preserve the status quo.

BTW, I just checked the latest stats (2010/2011 data) on US petroleum reserves, production and consumption, as well as population, from the CIA world factbook:

US holds 1.4% of known conventional oil reserves
US is 5.1% of world population
US produces 11.2% of worldwide supply
US consumes 24.2% of worldwide production

Looking at these numbers, it's pretty obvious that this is exactly the same problem people accuse our government of, in terms of revenue vs. spending. The only difference is, when you put it in terms of oil...

This is not a production problem, this is a consumption problem.

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 19, 2011 | 8:49 p.m.

And, it is not government and money. It is people and oil.

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt December 20, 2011 | 12:19 a.m.

The sooner we cease to rely on fossil fuels, the sooner we can stop subsidizing the Middle Eastern states that pretend to remotely like us.

There's Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago expecting the rest of the world to provide them with financial restitution for any loss of revenue incurred by successful clean-energy initiatives.

"Hey there, calculator inventor, I demand you pay me some money for every abacus I don't sell from here on out."

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt December 20, 2011 | 12:40 a.m.

I suppose that I should note that this is really quite a bit more about finding alternatives to coal and nuclear than it is about oil.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 20, 2011 | 6:26 a.m.

If fuel combustion is involved, carbon dioxide will be formed as a product of combustion. That's basic combustion chemistry.

So there appear to be at least two concerns: reducing reliance on foreign fuel sources, and reducing (or at least limiting future growth of) processes requiring combustion.

Bear in mind that "combustion" also involves all motor vehicles operating with gasoline or diesel engines as well as all home and commercial heating systems that require fuel combustion. All produce carbon dioxide as a product of combustion.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks December 20, 2011 | 10:02 a.m.

Don't buy into the Military spin of things. As I have said before. I have seen first hand the solar construction on places such as FLW and FRiley and a few other AFB's. It is to the extent that they have built new barricks to house around 500 Soldiers each in upgraded 4 story buildings and each building has 1 solar water heater mounted on the southeast side and in FRiley case they put 2 solar panel units each on the northwest sides of the building. They are roughly 8x10 in size. Probably enough to keep the emergency lights for the hallways lit.
I do know however that the Marines are working on some deploy-able Solar generator units to replace the bulky JP8 generators they have to pull around to each FOB or checkpoint and set up and maintain. That I feel is the smartest investment around. No need to carry in equipment that requires hourly fill ups of fuel and less amounts of convoys traveling on bad roads to deliver that fuel.
Bringing everyone home would be smarter but that is not going to happen.

(Report Comment)

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