Renew Missouri asks for energy incentives

A critic says the cost exceeds bill’s benefit.
Sunday, April 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:14 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

J. Wilson wants to create incentives for Missourians who use and benefit from renewable energy, and he hopes the General Assembly will pass a bill that, he says, would do just that.

Wilson, of Nixa, is a member of Renew Missouri. The group is focusing its efforts on winning approval for a bill that would promote the use of residential windmills and solar panels in Missouri.

Senate Bill 674, also known as The Easy Connection Act, would amend regulations for connecting alternative energy sources to existing power grids and require utility companies to give credit for excess electricity produced by homeowners through a process known as net metering. As it stands, Missouri law does not accommodate the practice.

The Easy Connection Act got its first hearing Thursday in a meeting of the Senate Commerce, Energy and Environment Committee. Wilson and several others testified in support of the bill.

“Utility companies have been supportive of conservation measures,” said Wilson, “and this falls under that category.”

Mitchell Ross, who owns a solar-powered home in Stockton, said the bill would give a boost to renewable energy in the state.

“I think this bill would encourage more home owners to build energy-efficient homes,” he said.

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, said she chose to sponsor the bill because existing laws aren’t creating any incentive to use renewable energy.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of people using it now, but if the law stays the same, there certainly won’t be many more.”

Bray said she and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, are interested in further exploring the bill but are uncertain, for now, whether it will move to the Senate floor for debate.

Wilson said he knows of 10 homes in Missouri with renewa­ble energy generators that are le­gally connected to power grids. In Boone County, three homes that use wind or solar power are already hooked up to the grid, and Boone Electric Cooperative offers them net metering.

Other cooperatives in the state, Wilson said, discourage residents from connecting legitimately or even using alternative power.

“Many people give up or connect without the proper paperwork,” he said.

Pat Baumhoer of Missouri Electric Cooperatives was the only person to testify against the bill at the hearing.

“It’s not economically viable,” he said. “It taxes other rate payers and gives them a subsidy for a hobby.”

Although an alternative energy source in the home could supply electricity to utility companies and make a profit for those who invest, starting up has its costs. Ross’ three-kilowatt solar panel generator cost him $27,000 after installation, inspection fees and the purchase of a backup battery.

“The new bill would be bene­fi­cial,” said Warren Wood, di­-

rec­tor of utility operations for the Missouri Public Service Commission. “But many people look at the cost and decide not to move forward.”

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