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The Politics of Solar

On the Missouri state seal, there is a phrase in Latin that reads: “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto,” which translated means, “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.” Since we live in a democracy, the welfare of the people is determined by the people.

Yet, this is an idea that too many of our state legislators have forgotten. In 2008, the citizens of Missouri voted to adopt a renewable energy standard for the state called Proposition C. Proposition C required all regulated electric utilities to produce 15% of their total power from renewable energy sources by 2021, specifically 2% from solar, while not increasing customer rates by more than 1% to pay for it. This measure passed with 66% of the vote.

Since Proposition C passed, there has been nothing but resistance to its implementation in Jefferson City from almost every corner. The utilities have dipped into their deep pockets and spent millions working to buy legislator allegiances and to discourage, or at the very least, slow or modify Proposition C’s implementation. Empire District Electric even went so far as to have themselves exempted by the legislature from Proposition C before it passed, but was then sued by the Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association (MOSEIA) and was forced to comply with the law of the people by the Missouri Supreme Court. This cost tens of thousands of dollars on both sides, that should never have been spent in the first place, because it was state law.

The fact is that Missourians have clearly stated that they are in favor of renewable energy, especially solar. Why? Because they are tired of the yearly rate hikes being levied by their electric utilities, with no end in sight. They are tired of not having choices when it comes to buying their power. They want to be free of the “regulated monopoly,” and most of all, they want to save money.

Solar meets these needs and that is why it’s popular. Since 2010, the price of solar has come down 50%, as a result of the federal government’s efforts to incentivize its use with a 30% federal tax credit. As a result, solar systems are now just as affordable as buying a new car. Best of all, it eliminates the electric bill altogether, brings millions’ worth of investment to the state, and creates thousands of new jobs.

Yet, the majority of those in Jefferson City have ignored these benefits and chosen instead to hang their hats with the utilities, and not the people they were elected to represent.

It’s not that solar isn’t beneficial to electric utilities; it is. This is a fact they recognized when there was more demand than they had the ability to produce. Then, they supported giving their customers free money to go solar, to help reduce the demand until they could build more power plants. Now that those plants are online, they see solar as a threat. They want to control all forms of electric generation and distribution. They want you to rely on them only. And for that privilege, they want to make you keep paying more and more every year.

Some of them have even gone so far as to build their own solar farms, and then resell the power to their customers at an inflated rate that covers their investment and profit margins. Of course, someone with their own solar system wouldn’t have to worry about that, because they would recover their investment in approximately eight years, leaving them with no electric bill. This is known as distributed generation, which is a minor threat to utility profit margins, but not their existence or business overall.

Because of their obstruction, advocates of solar and other renewable energy sources are having to fight the same battle over again. Once again, we have conducted an independent and scientifically valid opinion poll, that shows Missourian’s attitudes on this issue have not changed. Once again, we are being forced to draft up a new ballot measure for 2016 that reaffirms what Proposition C already made clear. How many times are Missourians going to have to vote on this issue before the state government acts to implement and protect the will of its constituents, and not the utilities?

The simple fact is that solar benefits everyone, even the utilities who fight it. It provides savings and energy independence for the average customer, it reduces overall demand on the electric grid so utilities don’t have to build expensive power plants and raise rates to pay for it, it creates jobs and brings millions in investment to the state, and most of all, it is clean, renewable energy. There is no logical reason it shouldn’t be allowed to grow and develop in Missouri, especially when that’s what the people want.