Ameren seeks early halt to solar energy rebate

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ameren Missouri has become the state’s second large utility to seek an early halt to a solar rebate program that rewards consumers for using alternative energy sources.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/19H2I0B ) reported Wednesday that Missouri’s largest utility is asking the state Public Service Commission for permission to curtail payment of millions of dollars in solar rebates before the year’s end.

The company said it has received more than $35 million in solar rebate requests, creating financial strain.

Missouri voters approved a 2008 ballot measure that that requires investor-owned utilities to derive a certain percentage of their electric generation from renewable resources. The law caps rate increases derived from that measure at 1 percent. Ameren wants regulatory approval to interrupt the rebate program when the 1 percent rate limit is reached. That would prematurely end the rebate program for the final weeks of this year and dictate how much money is available in future years.

Ameren’s service area includes about 1,400 solar photovoltaic systems, most added within just the past few years, company officials said. The company paid out $9 million in solar rebates last year and another $13.5 million in rebates through the first nine months of 2013.

An additional $28 million worth of applications are pending approval, said Warren Wood, the utility’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs. Wood said rebate payments in excess of $19 million this year would trigger the 1 percent rate limit. Exceeding the rate cap could expose the utility to consumer complaints or cause the regulatory commission to vote against the rebate expenses in a future rate case, he said.

The law known as Proposition C requires a small fraction of the renewable power to come from solar energy systems, requiring utilities to offer customers a $2-a-watt rebate, with a maximum rebate of $50,000.

Those rebates, along with a federal production tax credit and a near 50 percent decline in solar costs, have put the price of a rooftop system within reach of thousands of cost-conscious consumers. But uncertainty over how that 1 percent rate limit is calculated persists, five years after the law’s passage.

Wood said that Ameren hopes its filings will lead to clearer guidelines on calculating the rate limit.

“There are as many ways to calculate it as there are consultants,” he said. “At this point, we need to get some clarity.”

On the other side of the state, Kansas City Power & Light made a similar request in July. The company and solar industry representatives recently reach a settlement that would establish a defined pool of money available for rebates. The state commission was scheduled to consider the agreement at a Wednesday meeting in Jefferson City.

Ameren’s filing, though, will have no immediate effect on rebate payments. The state commission has 60 days to review the filing and conduct a public hearing before issuing a decision.

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