Mo. initiative seeks to increase renewable energy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A newly proposed Missouri ballot initiative seeks to increase the amount electricity coming from renewable energy sources while giving new power to the state's official consumer advocate to make sure the standards are implemented.

The measure would enhance a renewable energy mandate enacted by Missouri voters in 2008. If it is approved for circulation and garners enough petition signatures, it would appear on the 2012 ballot.

But the initiative already is sparking some controversy.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has asked Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to recuse her office from its duty of writing a summary for the initiative because Carnahan's younger brother is an investor in wind energy production. A Carnahan spokesman said the request would be reviewed but dismissed concerns of an apparent conflict of interest.

"This office has always followed our legal obligation to provide Missourians with fair and sufficient summaries of ballot initiatives," Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said.

A renewable energy advocate submitted a proposed ballot initiative in October to Carnahan's office. But PJ Wilson, the director of Renew Missouri, said Monday that he withdrew that original proposal because of technical problems in how it was drafted.

A revised proposal was submitted last week. Like the October proposal, it would require investor-owned utilities in Missouri to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2026 -- an increase over the current threshold of 15 percent by 2021. The measure also would require them to use the renewable energy in Missouri -- an attempt avoid scenarios in which Missouri power companies purchase renewable energy credits for electricity produced and sold in other states.

Wilson said the latest proposal gives the state Office of Public Counsel the authority to serve as a watchdog for enforcement of the renewable energy standards and requires utilities to finance the office's operation -- a funding model that has been repeatedly proposed in the state Legislature but has failed to pass.

Barnes, who is chairman of the House Interim Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, said Carnahan has an "ethical duty" to abstain from carrying out her office's legal duties of writing the summary that would appear atop the initiative petitions and ballot. He noted that her brother, Tom Carnahan, is the founder and chairman of Wind Capital Group.

"This renewable energy mandate would have a direct and incredibly lucrative impact on hundreds of millions of dollars of investment by a close family member of Robin Carnahan," Barnes said. "If Robin Carnahan values fair government, she will immediately recuse herself and her office completely from this petition process."

No similar complaint was raised in 2008, when Carnahan's office wrote the summary for the renewable energy ballot initiative that ultimately passed with 66 percent of the vote.

Wilson said he sees no reason for Carnahan not to write the summary for the latest initiative. He described Barnes' request as "a tactical move by someone that might not want this to succeed."

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