The change, proposed by nonprofit Renew Missouri, would allow utility-scale solar energy companies to have more access in Missouri. The PSC is accepting written public comments on the issue through July 31 and will hold a public hearing on the rule change on Aug. 11.
The proposal would increase the standard offer cap for purchases from qualifying facilities from 5,000 to 20,000 kilowatts. The change would expand capabilities for companies and bring Missouri in line with other states that have increased access, according to Renew Missouri Executive Director James Owens.
“One of the reasons businesses go to other states like North Carolina instead of Missouri is that they have more access to renewable energy there,” Owens told The Missouri Times. “If you look at corporations and look at what their mission statements say, one of the biggest things they want is to be sustainable and run off of renewable energy. I think if we put more emphasis on solar and renewable energy — and open that access up to more companies — we will start to see businesses look at Missouri more seriously.”
Renew Missouri submitted its petition to propose the rule change last summer after observing the benefits that other states had had with expanded access, Owens said. Private companies in North Carolina employ more than 6,500 people, according to Renew Missouri, compared to Missouri’s 2,800 clean energy employees. Owens also said these companies have invested more than $7 billion in solar energy.
The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), passed by Congress in 1978, was meant to allow market access for small renewable energy generators and cogeneration facilities. Owens said the commission’s rules have not done an effective job at improving the market in Missouri but the proposed change would be a start.
“It would be a significant jump over what we’ve got. The point Renew Missouri wants to emphasize right now is that with everything going on COVID related, the clean energy sector is hurting.”
A report published in June by clean energy group E2 found that 9,312 renewable energy jobs in the state had been lost since March, with 340 unemployment claims coming from the industry in May. Clean energy jobs in Missouri had seen a growth of 4 percent since 2017 prior to the start of the pandemic, according to the report.
“We’re seeing the fastest growing industry in the state suffer,” Owens said.
The expansion of the renewable energy industry could be done while still observing social distancing practices and other protocols, according to Owens.
“The ability to work outside to build more solar and build up sustainable utilities, that’s something you can do without being concerned about the pandemic,” he said. “I think these are the kind of problems people need to look at that are realistic in our current environment. It’s something that can bolster the economy and attract jobs to our state and get people to work right away, and you can do it even with some of these health restrictions.”
Owens said sustainable energy remains a safe investment, and the expansion could bolster the economy and industry without raising rates for customers.
“Utility companies are not going to go away; as long as there’s electricity, they’re going to be around,” Owens said. “They are in a unique position to help Missouri’s economy; we just need to have regulations in place to make a framework to allow them to do that.”