Battle over homegrown solar energy continues

Dec 17, 2013

Vaughn Prost, CEO of Missouri Solar Applications, stands amidst a solar array his company installed on the roof of Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City.
Credit Meredith Turk / KBIA News

The fight over Proposition C continues.

Not too surprising if you don't remember Prop C.  In 2008 Missourians voted 2-1 to enact Proposition C, a renewable energy standard.  The standard requires Missouri utility companies to generate 15% of their energy from renewable resources by 2021.  Two percent of this is required to come from solar energy.

Not everyone is happy with how it has been implemented.  Much of the opposition has come from renewable energy companies and environmental organizations.  The most recent battle is about renewable energy credits.  Missouri utility companies can buy renewable energy rather than produce it.  And these credits count toward its requirements to fulfill the renewable energy standard Prop C created. 

Several entities have filed suit against the state government bodies that oversee the renewable energy standard.  These include the Public Service Commission, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Governor Jay Nixon.  The plaintiffs argue the renewable energy standard is not being implemented correctly and they want to stop utility companies from buying renewable energy credits outside of Missouri.

One of the parties in the lawsuit against the state is Vaughn Prost, the CEO of Missouri Solar Applications in Jefferson City.  Prost said he is angry that Missouri utility companies can buy renewable energy credits from outside the state.  "The utility has one side that thinks it's doing things legally.  We have another side that thinks it's not what the intent of the law was.  It was clean energy for Missouri.  To have clean energy in Missouri you have to build the facility in Missouri, or nearby Missouri and bring it in.  Buying from renewable energy sources in California or Canada does nothing for clean energy in Missouri."

Prost moved to Missouri after starting in the solar industry decades ago in California.  He has been pleased with the growth of the solar industry in Missouri and he said this is thanks to the renewable energy standard.   The Missouri Solar Industry Association reported employment among its members has more than doubled since 2011, from 150 to 350 this year.  Prost said it could do a lot more.  " Well, it's hundreds of jobs, could even be thousands of jobs.  Our firm employs 35 people here in Jeff City."

The market for solar in Missouri is not as robust as other states, but Prost said the cost of solar here is competitive.  "Our cost for installing a solar system is just as cheap as what it is in California, or maybe even cheaper here than it is in California.  And it is very comparable to Colorado and Arizona, which are other big solar states."  But Prost argues the market in Missouri will never become competitive  if utility companies don't invest now and eventually bring down costs.  Also, he said that if businesses and others that produce more electricity than they need, utility companies can sell it on the electricity grid.  The more locations that produced solar electricity and push excess onto the grid, the stronger the marketplace.  So, renewable energy advocates  argue that buying credits outside the state hurts the potential of building a more reasonable solar market in Missouri.

Henry Robertson is a lawyer working with the Great River Environmental Law Center in St. Louis.  He filed the lawsuit against the state entities on behalf of Prost and the Coalition for the Environment.  "I am not aware of any other state that allows unrestricted buying of renewable energy credits that have no connection with the state," Robertson said.  "Only exception I believe is Colorado, but Colorado has a thriving wind industry on its own and it doesn't really need them."

The defendants in the case would not comment on this story.  But in early November they did file a motion to dismiss the case.