Two bills show Missouri’s solar split personality

The eyes of the solar industry in Missouri are focused on the state capital Jefferson City, where two competing bills could decide the future of the industry in the state.

In the form of two bills that would have precisely opposite effects on Missouri’s solar industry, the state reveals the chasm between the pro-solar and anti-solar forces – and no reconciliation is expected any time soon.

Up first is the House Bill (HB) 340, which received its third reading on Wednesday, the final step in the process before it receives a vote. No vote has currently been scheduled, but most Missouri legislature observers expect one soon. HB 340 would codify into law the right of utilities to create a separate class of ratepayers, on whom they could levy extra fees.

The Missouri bill is similar to bills introduced in states across the country, in response to the utility-concocted trope that solar customers shift rate burdens to non-solar customers because they allegedly don’t pay for grid upkeep or other maintenance of electrical assets. Solar advocates point to the more than 16 studies, including several national studies, that prove the cost-shift argument is an illusion.

And yet, like any good zombie lie, utilities perpetuate it because it sets up a classic divide-and-conquer strategy that pits solar customers vs. non-solar customers. If HB 340 passes and is then approved by the Missouri Senate, the utilities will have the opportunity to keep one of its strongest competitors – the rooftop solar industry – from continuing to grow by essentially taxing it to death.

Solar advocates worry the extra fees could eliminate the incentive for residents to install solar because they would eliminate some of the expected savings and lengthen the payback time on systems.

HB 340 stands in direct opposition to HB 439 – named the Missouri Energy Freedom Act – which would allow power-purchase agreements in the state for the first time. The bill has been introduced in various forms in the past three legislative sessions, with no success in passage. The bill would allow large electricity consumers like Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Unilever, General Mills, Target, General Motors and Nestle to purchase renewable energy directly from a producer instead of being limited to purchasing its electricity from its assigned utility.

Legislators have high hopes for HB 439 this session, especially since two of the corporations supporting it – Target and Wal-Mart – have an ongoing battle to be the top corporate consumer of solar power in the United States, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Means Business report. In 2016, Target inched past Wal-Mart for the top spot, a position Wal-Mart had held in each of the previous seven reports. But because HB 340 comes first, the future of HB 439 is now much cloudier.

Missouri is currently home to 2,380 solar jobs, including 1,481 in installation, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. It currently has a 15% renewable portfolio standard (RPS), with a 0.3% carve-out for solar.

According to a statewide survey conducted by a third-party polling firm, 75% of Missourians want more solar energy in the state.