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Utilities' renewable energy commitment questioned

Utilities' renewable energy commitment questioned

February 13th, 2013 in News

COLUMBIA (AP) - A coalition of Missouri environmental groups has filed complaints against three major utility companies questioning their commitment to renewable energy requirements state voters approved in 2008.

The Columbia Missourian reported that Renew Missouri and seven other environmental advocacy organizations asked the state Public Service Commission in late January to review the actions of Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric Co. and Kansas City Power & Light.

A 2008 law approved by Missouri voters required investor-owned utilities to generate at least 2 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011. That requirement increases to 10 percent in 2018 and 15 percent by 2021. Utilities that don't meet the standard can buy renewable power from other sources to help cover the gap.

Leaders of Renew Missouri, which wrote the ballot language later known as Proposition C, envisioned utilities building new solar panels, wind farms, landfill gas plants and other environmentally friendly approaches to satisfy the requirements.

Instead, said group director PJ Wilson, energy producers seem to be doing as little as possible to comply with the letter of the law.

"I thought my job was done on Nov. 4, 2008," he said. "Now here we are five years later."

Regulators with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which created the actual rules defining acceptable renewable resources for power companies, expressed disappointment in the standards' failure to spark new investment in renewable energy.

"In passing Proposition C, Missouri voters communicated their interest in more renewable energy than had been previously developed in Missouri by 2008," agency attorney Jennifer Frazier wrote in response to Ameren's first-year compliance plan. "This first set of filings demonstrates that Missouri's renewable energy standard is not creating significant additional renewable energy development."

The utilities told the newspaper they are following the law.

"We are fully compliant," said Warren Miller, Ameren's vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs.

"Empire has and will continue to meet the requirements of the renewable energy standards in both Missouri and Kansas per state statutes," added Empire spokeswoman Amy Bass.

Ameren attorney Wendy Tatro disputed her DNR counterpart's suggestion that the company fell short of voters' expectations.

"There is no basis to believe that Missouri voters voted for "more renewable energy,'" she wrote in response the agency's comments. The new standard "does not require any utility to add any amount of new renewable energy. It only sets forth the percentage of energy generation (or an associated level of renewable energy credits) which must come from renewable energy sources."

Empire and Kansas City Power & Light did not respond to the department's statement.

Ameren has added photovoltaic solar panels to its headquarters building, but all that energy is consumed on site. The company also completed a small facility in Maryland Heights in May 2012 that converts landfill gas to electricity.

All three utilities offer rebates to their customers who install solar panels on their homes or businesses.

Wilson said those efforts represent small fractions of the utilities' total energy sources and shouldn't be held up as examples of an increased commitment to renewable energy.

"It's offensive, really, for them to say, "Look at all the stuff we're doing,' because the stuff they're doing is a far cry from where they're required by law to be," he said.

The Public Service Commission previously ruled that the three utilities are complying with the standards. The utilities have 30 days to respond to the new complaint, said Cheryl Voss, the commission's director of regulatory review.

An industry group for investor-owned utilities and power companies and an organization for industrial energy consumers challenged the Public Service Commission's administrative rules in court, but the Missouri Court of Appeals' Western District rejected that legal challenge in November.