St. Louis, MO –
Missouri has plenty of room for expanding its use of alternative energy. The state is second to last in the country for using renewables to generate electricity, and more than 80% of its power comes from coal. Mark Templeton directs the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. He said Missouri is well-positioned to reverse those numbers.
"Missouri has opportunity in wind. It has opportunity in solar. I think it will have great opportunity in biomass. We need to be looking at all of these."
Missouri's wind farms might be the state's most visible source of renewable energy. The state has three in its northwest corner, all owned by Wind Capital Group. Company President Tom Carnahan said each generates enough power for about 20,000 homes.
"Folks thought there wasn't any wind in Missouri, and that's what wind developers thought. But as it turns out those winds from Kansas and Nebraska and Iowa don't realize there's a state border there."
At least two other companies are planning to compete for a portion of Missouri's wind business. Frank Costanza is the vice president of Kansas-based TradeWind Energy. He said the company decided to build here because Missouri is ranked the 20th windiest state.
"What drives all development of wind projects is the quality of the wind. The higher the quality of the wind, the harder and more consistently it blows, the lower the energy prices that we can deliver our energy to the grid."
With one powerful river boarding Missouri on the east and another running through it, energy developers are also investing in hydropower. Free Flow Power of out Massachusetts wants to install underwater turbines (pictured) along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Project Development Director John Guidroz said steady currents could provide enough energy to power up to one million homes each year.
"It's dipatchable, it's baseload. The river flows 24 hours a day. There are certainly seasonal variations but the upside of that is it's very predictable."
Free Flow is still researching its river projects and will probably have to wait several years for final federal approval.
While some renewable energies are still being developed, others like solar power already have a foothold in Missouri. Dane Glueck is the president of Missouri Solar Living. The company helps homeowners and businesses buy solar panels and get permits to install them. Glueck said Missouri's solar future is promising because the state gets almost as much sun as Miami on a yearly basis.
"We actually get 92 percent of the useful sun energy Miami receives, so we certainly have more cloudy days but even on cloudy days we get solar energy that can be translated into usable energy here."
Solar power hasn't been developed on a large scale in Missouri. Glueck said that's because fitting an average single-family home with panels runs around $16,000, which can be cost prohibitive for many. Glueck said extended tax credits, higher electric rates and concerns about climate change will stimulate more solar development in Missouri.
"This year and over this next 12 months is probably the turning point. And I think that's especially true for Missouri. The potential is huge here because it's not been something that's had a great awareness up until this past year or two."
Farmers are also banking on the future of renewables. The Show Me Energy Cooperative in Centerview, near Missouri's western border, began manufacturing biopellets (pictured) made from materials like switchgrass and corn stalks last year. It plans to sell the pellets to utilities, which will burn them with coal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Kansas City Power and Light is test burning the pellets at its Sibley power plant, with what CEO Michael Chesser said are good results.
"We couldn't convert the whole plant at this stage, but if we continue to develop the technology and reduce the cost and get some other utilities to participate I think it's within the realm of reason that that could become a major source of fuel."
The pellet manufacturers said they could produce enough to heat more than thirty thousand homes each year.
State leaders are hoping that all of these renewable energy projects will lead to the creation of new jobs. And some organizations are already counting on it.
On a recent rainy weekday morning at a St. Louis electrical training center, instructor Tim Kelly explains to students the importance of training for renewable energy jobs. The center recently revamped its curriculum to include lessons in installing green technologies. It hopes workers who have lost auto manufacturing jobs will be able to recoup them in the wind, solar, and biomass industries.
Not everyone thinks green jobs are the answer to the country's economic problems. Republican Senator Kit Bond has questioned whether a government-proposed cap-and-trade system would eliminate high-paying manufacturing jobs in favor of lower-paid green ones.
"If we put a carbon tax on existing energy sources in Missouri we're going to destroy jobs and we will not have the kind of economy that everybody envisions."
The cap-and-trade legislation would limit the amount of carbon dioxide utilities can produce. It would also allow them to buy energy credits if they're having trouble meeting standards.
Some who have studied renewable energies in Missouri say changes in how the state gets its energy will happen, but they'll happen slowly. Mariesa Crow directs the Energy Research and Development Center at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Crow said the cost of coal will have to go up significantly for before Missouri becomes more interested in renewables.
"Essentially electricity is a commodity. It's all a cost analysis. People naturally do that. Until it starts to hurt we're really not going to change our habits unless we are in some way altruistic."
Despite those concerns, Missourians have expressed an interest in getting more electricity from alternative sources. In November 2008, they passed renewable mandate Proposition C. It requires investor-owned utilities, like AmerenUE, to get at least 15%of energy from renewables by 2021.