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Missouri judge dismisses solar power rebate lawsuit

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed over a renewable energy law that would require utilities to offer rebates to customers who install solar power systems.

Voters approved the renewable energy law in 2008, which included a requirement for investor-owned utilities to use solar power. Customers were to receive a $2 per watt rebate if they installed solar electric systems. The measure, called Proposition C, also required investor-owned utilities to meet thresholds for using renewable energy.

Months before the initiative petition was approved, the Legislature passed a bill exempting utilities from the rebate requirement if their renewable energy capacity was equal to at least 15 percent of their fossil fule capacity by Jan. 20, 2009.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Capitol’s home of Cole County, sought to have that exemption declared invalid. The suit was filed against The Empire District Electric Co., a Joplin-based utility, and the Missouri Public Service Commission. The plaintiffs included two southwest Missouri residents who wanted the solar-power rebates.

The Empire District has said it should be exempted from the solar rebate portion of the voter-approved law because the utility exceeded the 15 percent renewable energy level in December 2008.

The lawsuit claimed lawmakers could not modify an initiative petition after voter signatures had been submitted and before the initiative appears on the ballot. It also suggested that the rebate exemption that took effect in August was overridden after voters approved the ballot measure in November.

Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson dismissed the suit Friday and called it premature. Wilson ruled that state utility regulators have not determined how apply to the voter-approved law and the Legislature-approved exemption.

“It is for the Public Service Commission to say — in the first instance — what Empire may do and must do regarding Proposition C’s renewable energy mandates and rebate requirements,” Wilson wrote in his ruling.

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