Carnahan denies conflict over Missouri renewable-energy ballot measure

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | 7:32 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan says the state's attorney general's office agrees that there is no conflict of interest in her office promoting renewable energy, even though her brother is an investor in a wind-energy production company.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, a Republican from Jefferson City, asked Carnahan to recuse her office from writing a ballot summary on the proposed initiative to seek an increase in the use of renewable energy sources for electricity in the state because her brother is the founder and chairman of Wind Capital Group.

"I strongly disagree with your suggestion of a conflict," Carnahan, a Democrat, said in a letter to Barnes, according to the Jefferson City News Tribune.

She said she sought advice from the Missouri attorney general's office, which found that the secretary of state's office does not have the authority to ask an official from another state agency to develop ballot summaries.

The attorney general office's general counsel, Ronald Holliger, wrote in a letter that Carnahan does not have a conflict of interest over the ballot initiative.

Barnes said handing off responsibility for the renewable energy measure to a deputy is not sufficient and likened the situation to lawyers who must remove themselves from cases at the suggestion of a potential conflict.

"Even if it's not illegal, no rational Missourian believes Secretary Carnahan doesn't have a conflict in writing ballot language for a measure that would secure hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed sales for a business owned by her brother," Barnes said, according to the newspaper report Thursday.

If the energy measure is approved for circulation and gathers enough petition signatures from Missouri voters, it would appear on the November 2012 ballot.

Proposed by a renewable energy advocate, the measure is would require investor-owned utilities to use renewable energy sources for at least 25 percent of their electricity by 2026. It would supplement a measure approved by voters in 2008 that requires power companies to use renewable sources for 15 percent of their electricity by 2021. It also would require utilities to use the renewable energy in Missouri.

The state public counsel, who represents ratepayers before utility regulators, also would have authority to be a watchdog for enforcement of the renewable energy requirements.

The 2008 renewable energy measure was approved by 66 percent of the voters and passed in every county except for Osage County east of Jefferson City. Carnahan was serving as secretary of the state at the time and no complaints were raised about her office's involvement.

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