For years, the knock on various forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, has been that they aren't reliable enough to generate base-load power — the minimum output that utilities must make available to consumers at all times.
This is true — coal and natural gas do the heavy lifting. But the reliability and costs of renewable energy have come a long way in a short time. In the first quarter of 2011, for the first time in U.S. history, renewable sources produced more energy than nuclear power.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that renewable energy contributed nearly 12 percent of U.S. energy in the first three months of 2011, nearly twice the contribution from nuclear power.
Make no mistake, coal is still king in Missouri and the nation. Yet the rise of renewable energy as a reliable alternative should not be overlooked.
That trend makes Missouri's inability to fully implement 2008's Proposition C even more regrettable. That voter-approved measure required that Missouri investor-owned-utilities increase their renewable energy portfolio by 2 percent this year, rising to 15 percent by 2021.
Putting the law into effect has been stalled by disagreements about what supporters of Proposition C intended and interpretations of what the law actually allows.
Lawmakers earlier this year overturned a Public Service Commission ruling that would have required the renewable energy to come from sources in Missouri or surrounding states. Utilities want to be able to purchase renewable energy credits from sources all over the country.
Earlier this month, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green ruled that the PSC had gone beyond the scope of the law in trying to implement Proposition C. The judge said the rule, as written, would have allowed costs to rise much higher than the 1 percent called for in the law. He also took issue with the one part of the law that has been successful, utility rebates to consumers who install solar-power systems. So what to do?
The PSC should go back to the drawing board to write rules that will serve both the spirit of Proposition C and the letter of the law. Unfortunately, the PSC has voted in its traditional 3-2 partisan split to appeal Judge Green's decision.
That only delays justice for those voters — and businesses — seeking certainty on how Missouri will move toward an energy portfolio containing more renewable energy.
Despite those delays, the state is moving toward that goal. Last month, the Associated Electric Cooperative of Springfield agreed to buy 150 megawatts of wind power from St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group. The solar rebate has led to the creation of scores of jobs in the Missouri solar industry.
The group behind Proposition C, Renew Missouri, already is laying the groundwork for a second statewide vote. If it passes, and the Legislature follows form, the voters' decision will be overturned. More lawsuits and appeals will follow. This cycle is getting Missouri nowhere.
The utility industry, its customers and others who care about Missouri's energy future must be able to find some middle ground that reduces the state's dependence on coal and produces some homegrown jobs in growing energy sectors.
Short-term costs will rise for utilities and consumers. But the longer we wait to pay the piper, the bigger the long-term bill will be.