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Renewable energy rules take up energy in Jefferson City

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2010 - More than 20 months after Missourians voted to require electric utilities to get more of their power from renewable energy sources, rules putting the mandate in place are taking up a lot of energy in Jefferson City.

The Public Service Commission spent months putting together regulations, hearing testimony from stakeholders throughout the state, then sent its proposal to a legislative panel that was supposed to have the final say. Its deadline for action was last Friday, July 2.

But the panel -- known as the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR -- made changes in the PSC recommendations, then adopted the amended rules by a vote of 6-2. The new version of the rules changed key provisions of the proposal -- which was passed in November 2008 as Proposition C -- and not for the better, according to its backers.

Those provisions would have led to much of the renewable energy required from utilities to be generated in the state, creating jobs in Missouri instead of elsewhere, proponents of the proposal said.

"JCAR's revision of the rule could potentially allow utilities to buy renewable energy credits from anywhere in the world to meet the renewable energy goals of Prop C," said Jason Hughes, of the group Renew Missouri.

"Millions of Missourians voted for Prop C because of its promise to jump-start in-state development of renewable energy, and it would put Missourians to work. I am frustrated by their actions at a time when Missouri needs new jobs and new industry the most."

In response to the changes by JCAR, the Public Service Commission met Tuesday and voted to send the rule as a whole to the secretary of state, but it urged that the disputed sections about the geographical source of the energy be held up.

PSC Chairman Robert Clayton said he believed that Missourians voted for Proposition C with the understanding that the energy created in response to the mandate would be created in Missouri -- and jobs would be created along with it.

He isn't sure what will happen now, as far as how the final version of the rule will read. Actions by JCAR need to be confirmed by the General Assembly as a whole, and it is unclear whether next year's Legislature, which will have different members, can act on rules passed along by this year's. Also unclear is the power that JCAR has over provisions enacted by a vote of the people as opposed to those passed by lawmakers.

"It's not clear what is going to happen," Clayton said in an interview Tuesday. "JCAR is a weird animal. We fully respect the JCAR members, but from my perspective, we had a job to do and we did it, and they had a job to do and they did it."

Proposition C, which was put onto the 2008 ballot by initiative petition, passed with 66 percent of the vote. It requires investor-owned utilities in Missouri, including AmerenUE, to generate or purchase electricity from renewable energy sources -- including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower -- in incremental steps between 2011 and 2021.

The schedule requires the percentage of such electricity to move from 2 percent in 2011 to 15 percent by 2021. Of the total renewable energy sources, at least 2 percent would have to be solar. Nuclear power does not count toward the goal. According to the proposition, rate increases for customers would be capped at 1 percent.

A study conducted before the issue went before voters concluded that the requirement for renewable energy had the potential to create 9,591 jobs and generate $2.86 billion in economic activity for Missouri by the year 2021. 

But opponents of the changes made by JCAR say those jobs, which were part of the campaign for Proposition C, may now never be realized.

"Even after it passed overwhelmingly, Missouri legislators are again undercutting our chance to catch up with the rest of the country on renewable energy," said Erin Noble of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, who noted that the proposition went onto the ballot only after years of unsuccessfully trying to get lawmakers to establish the same standards.

"If the JCAR ruling stands, we will continue to lose the race to transition to a clean energy economy costing the state jobs and in-state investment."

Hughes, of Renew Missouri, said he wasn't quite sure why JCAR voted to ease requirements about where the renewable energy would come from. He said this isn't a case of tracing the actual electrons, but more an issue of where the power contracts come from.

If the power is generated in Missouri -- or at least in an adjacent state -- then Missouri will benefit economically as well as environmentally, he said.

"We understand if a wind farm is just across the border that it is beneficial to Missourians as well," Hughes said. "But to be able to buy renewable energy certificates from anywhere on the planet does nothing for Missouri.

"We think it is interesting that at the exact moment when we are having a special session that is designed to help keep jobs in Missouri, the General Assembly is gutting a rule that is designed to be creating new jobs in Missouri."

Sen. Jack Goodman, the Mt. Vernon Republican and member of JCAR who proposed the changes concerning where the renewable energy may come from, did not respond to calls seeking comment on why he sought the changes.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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