What can solar power do for a single state? How about 21% of its energy, $14 billion in economic activity, and over 150,000 jobs. At a discount to existing electricity costs. Without subsidies.

That’s what solar power can do for Missouri, but the state’s utilities may be about to pull the plug on local solar power.

It started with a renewable energy standard, passed overwhelmingly in 2008, requiring the state’s utilities to get 15% of their electricity from renewable energy resources, and primarily from local sources.  But attacks on the law started three years ago, when the Republican-controlled state legislature undermined the ‘buy local’ provision.

Fortunately, this didn’t stop local solar, helped along by a generous state rebate. Starting in 2011, the falling cost of solar panels led to a surge in installations. By the end of the year, the cumulative solar capacity (estimated at 120 megawatts) will have added $415 million to the state economy and nearly 4,000 jobs.

missouri installed solar capacity and forecast

But utilities abruptly pulled the plug on solar in 2013. In the middle of the legislative session where a rebate phase-out was being carefully crafted, and despite assurances that they were nowhere near the cost cap on the solar rebate program, the state’s utilities announced the programs were allegedly running out of money. No independent analysis has verified the utilities’ claims.

Advocates reached a settlement with the utilities late in 2013 to pay out the remaining rebate funds, but efforts to re-open the compromise on a reduced solar rebate were sabotaged by the same utilities late in the 2014 legislative session. Now a lawsuit may be the only hope to avoid a big drop on the “solar coaster” when rebate payments stop.