Lawsuit challenges Missouri solar rebate limits

Associated Press |

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some supporters of Missouri's solar rebate program have filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down a regulatory agreement capping the amount of customer rebates that can be issued by the state's largest utility companies.

The lawsuit filed this week in Cole County Circuit Court focuses on how to implement a 2008 voter-approved law that sets targets for renewable energy production by investor-owned utilities and requires them to pay rebates to customers who install solar energy panels on their properties.

That law requires renewable energy to account for 5 percent of electricity this year, rising to 15 percent by 2021. But it also says that utilities cannot raise electric rates by more than 1 percent to comply with the renewable energy standards. The law was amended last year to allow utilities to stop solar rebates if power companies determine the 1 percent cap would be reached.

Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power and Light Co. sought permission last year to suspend the rebate programs because of customer demand.

As a result, the Missouri Public Service Commission approved agreements capping Ameren Missouri's solar rebate payments at $91.9 million. Separate agreements capped solar rebate payments at $36.5 million for one of KCP&L's service territories and $50 million for another of KCP&L's service regions.

The utility companies said Wednesday that they already have met or are approaching those caps in their various territories.

The lawsuit challenges the calculation methods used to determine those limits, alleging they were based on "speculative and hypothetical expenditures" for future projects and "significantly understate the amount of solar rebates that should be paid."

The lawsuit was filed by Save Our Lawfully Authorized Rebates LLC, which consists of solar panel installers and customers, and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. It asks a judge to invalidate the agreements capping the solar rebates and to order utilities to continue paying rebates to people seeking them.

"This lawsuit seeks to put Missouri back on track for a clean energy future that develops renewable energy sources," said Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Unless the rebate program is continued, she said, solar panel businesses will be forced to lay off employees.

But if the solar rebates continue, they could have an effect on the rates charged to other customers, utility companies said. That's because the utilities can make up for the lost revenues from customers with solar panels by raising the rates they charge to supply power.

"It is already causing rates to go up," said Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for KCP&L.

Ameren Missouri spokesman Warren Wood said the solar panel subsidies are benefiting only "a small percentage of our customers" at a cost approaching $100 million that "will result in higher rates for all of our customers."

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