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State High Court Says Lawmakers Acted Too Fast To Limit Renewable Energy Law

Among the projects available for loans through GreenHELP is installing solar energy panels.
Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association

Missouri's highest court has ruled that lawmakers acted too soon in 2008 when they sought to place limits on a ballot initiative on renewable energy before it had gone to the voters.

Tuesday's 5-2 ruling noted that nothing could stop the Missouri General Assembly from changing ballot initiatives after they are approved by the voters. But judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote that efforts to negate the effects of an initiative before it even goes to voters "would infringe on the constitutionally protected initiative rights of the people."

In February 2008, then Secretary of State Robin Carnahan certified Proposition C for the November ballot. The measure, which sought to require Missouri's major utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2021, passed with 66 percent of the vote. It included rebates for customers who installed solar panels. 

But in May, 2008, after certification but before the vote, the General Assembly approved a measure that, "not withstanding any other provision of law," stated that electric companies that could prove they were already generating 15 percent of their power supply from renewable sources did not have to offer those rebates, or get any of their power from solar. Renewable energy and environmental groups sued.

The most immediate impact of Tuesday's ruling is that the Empire District Electric Company must pay issue millions of dollars in rebates to its customers in southwest Missouri who qualify. 

But renewable energy boosters like P.J. Wilson of Renew Missouri said the ruling also sent a strong message to utilities and the state agency that regulates them.

"The voters of Missouri wanted real renewable energy delivered to their customers," Wilson said. "They wanted solar rebates offered to them. They were serious when they passed that, and it’s good to see some validation from the court system."

A spokeswoman for Empire said in a statement that the company is reviewing the ruling, and intends to comply with the state law.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.