Missouri’s In-State Renewable Power Mandate Headed for Court

Published December 16, 2013

Environmental activist groups are suing Missouri state officials after legislators blocked an administrative rule requiring customers to purchase renewable power from in-state sources.

Voters Imposed Renewable Mandate
In 2008, Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative requiring investor-owned utilities to produce at least 5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2014. The requirement rises to 10 percent by 2018 and 15 percent by 2021.

PSC Added In-State Requirement
The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) issued a rule requiring utilities to produce the renewable power from in-state sources.

In 2011 the state legislature overturned the PSC rule, pointing out the PSC’s proposed rule went beyond the ballot measure the voters had approved. As a result, utilities have been able to purchase credits for renewable energy from sellers outside Missouri.

In late August, the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit challenging the legal basis of the legislature’s rejection of the PSC’s proposed rule. The Green Rivers Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Jefferson City-based Missouri Solar Application, and a private citizen. 

The lawsuit contends the Secretary of State’s office should have published the original PSC rule, not the revised version minus the portions rejected by the legislature. Turning their fire on the legislative process, the plaintiffs contend it was an “infringement of the people’s right to enact legislation by initiative” for the legislature to reject a portion of the renewable energy rule.

More Expensive In-State Production
Missouri has less favorable renewable power generation potential than many other states. Missouri’s wind and solar power potential are average compared to the nation as a whole, but states to the west of Missouri can produce much more wind and solar power, and at lower prices, than Missouri.

Forcing customers to purchase in-state renewable power raises electricity prices beyond what are already expensive prices for renewable power. The in-state mandate also raises constitutional questions about impeding and discrimination against interstate commerce.

“These environmental litigants are trying to impose an unconstitutional condition on Missouri’s renewable power mandate,” said Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research. 

“It is unconstitutional for states to limit commerce from people outside of Missouri. That’s the basic point of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution,” Simmons explained.

“Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago recently determined states cannot, without violating Article I of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, discriminate against out-of-state renewable energy,” said Simmons.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.