Court orders Empire to pay solar rebates
February 11, 2015
COLUMBIA, MO – In a 5-2 decision released February 10, 2015, by the Missouri Supreme Court, citizens and solar customers won their appeal against Empire District Electric and the Public Service Commission. The Supreme Court nullified a law that Empire claimed gave them an exemption from offering solar rebates to its customers.

“This ruling legally clarifies that as of today, more than six years after a majority of Empire’s own customers voted to require them to do so, Empire must offer solar rebates,” said PJ Wilson, Director of Renew Missouri.

The Court’s ruling relied largely on the fact that the ballot initiative, known as Proposition C, passed more recently in time than an attempt by the Missouri legislature to exempt Empire from solar requirements. The legislature passed House Bill 1181 in May 2008, which said that Empire would be exempt from any solar requirements should they exist in the future. But the subsequent ballot initiative, passed in November 2008 with over 66 percent of the popular vote, required all publicly regulated utilities to offer solar rebates to their customers starting in January 2010.

The Court explained in its ruling that, “the legislature could not preemptively negate the effect of the initiative before it had even been voted on by the people and make the people’s later vote a meaningless act...”

Plaintiffs Renew Missouri and Missouri Coalition for the Environment were represented by Henry Robertson with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Robertson said, “Empire tried to get out of obeying part of the law. The Supreme Court reminded it that you can’t amend a law that hasn’t been passed yet.”

Heather Navarro, executive director of MCE, said, “Today the will of the people is finally upheld, and residents of Southwest Missouri will finally have financial support to put solar on their roofs.”

While Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power & Light have paid out over $175 million in solar incentives in the St Louis and Kansas City areas since 2010, Empire Electric Company has yet to offer the rebates to their customers as required by law.

More information about the ruling may be found here.

Editor's note: Empire on August 29, 2014 filed a request with the Missouri Public Service Commission for a 5.5% rate increase (an increase of $9.87 each month for residential customers monthly using 1,000 kilowatt-hours). See their press release here which reveals that "the most significant factor driving the need for a rate increase is the cost associated with the installation of the Air Quality Control System (AQCS) at the Asbury Power Plant. Additional factors include increased operating costs, a new maintenance contract covering the Riverton 12 gas fired generating unit, the increase in Regional Transmission Organization charges and increases in property taxes." Empire's stock lost 2.59% today (Feb. 11, 2015), closing at $25.58. For stockholders investing long term, the drop is insignificant, especially since the PSC historically makes sure that Empire's annual gross revenues don't decline. Empire also pays stockholders a dividend yield of 4.07%, not too shabby for today's interest climate.

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