Customers Claim Utilities Violated Missouri’s Renewable Energy Law

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 14, 2014

As a rebate that subsidized rooftop solar panels nears its end, two Ameren Missouri customers have filed a formal complaint with the state’s utility regulator in an attempt to keep the money flowing.

The complaint, submitted Wednesday to the Missouri Public Service Commission, accuses Ameren Missouri of violating the state’s renewable energy law when it denied their rebate applications. State law keeps utilities’ renewable energy efforts from increasing electric rates beyond 1 percent, but the PSC never determined the program would do that, the complaint alleges.

The complaint comes just weeks before the expected end of a $2-per-watt rebate that Ameren Missouri and other investor-owned utilities in the state have to pay to customers who install rooftop solar panels. In Ameren’s case, the $91.9 million it allocated for solar rebates was spoken for at the end of last year, and installers need to wrap up projects before the end of June to claim the payments.

The rebate program was established as part of the 2008 voter-approved Renewable Energy Standard, which required investor-owned utilities to use renewables for a portion of their electricity. To help get the state’s solar industry off the ground, the law also set up the rebate.

It has proved popular across the state, but the utilities cited the 1 percent rate cap when they filed to suspend rebate payments last year.

Solar industry and other renewable advocates eventually reached deals with the utilities to avoid a sudden halt to the solar rebates. In Ameren’s territory, the utility capped their value at $91.9 million, but the solar industry has always maintained that Ameren never revealed how it arrived at that cap.

“It’s never been calculated to the satisfaction of the industry, for sure,” said Heidi Schoen, executive director of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association. The $91.9 million cap agreed to last year, and others covering other utilities’ territory, are “completely arbitrary,” she said.

Ameren, in a statement, said the $91.9 million was “the maximum that state law allows without adding more than 1 (percent) to our rates” and was agreed to by the solar industry, consumer advocates, industrial consumers and others.

But Deane Todd and Patricia Schuba, the two customers who filed the complaint, say state law expressly requires the PSC to calculate whether the 1 percent cap has been reached. Until then, it can’t allow utilities to stop paying the rebate. Schuba also is one of the organizers fighting Ameren over its proposed coal ash landfill in Franklin County.

Matt Ghio, the St. Louis attorney representing the complainants, said his clients weren’t bound by the agreement reached with Ameren last year setting the $91.9 million cap. He is representing other customers in a similar case filed Wednesday against Kansas City Power & Light Greater Missouri Operations, and he said he hoped to add more customers to the complaint cases in the coming weeks.

“The commission is required by law to make those determinations before they can authorize utilities to suspend payments of the rebates,” Ghio said.

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