Missouri lagging behind neighbors in wind economy
In a 2008 speech Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius referred to her state as the “Saudi Arabia of Wind,” and that statement came along with plans to produce 10 percent of the state’s energy from wind by the end of the year.
That was also the year Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition C, a referendum designed to expand and grow the use of renewable energy here. But two-and-a-half years later most of the regulations contained in Prop C have yet to go into effect.
Trey Goede is the Director of Affinity Wind LLC, a St. Louis-based wind energy startup.
Goede’s firm hopes to begin construction on a $250 million, 150 megawatt wind farm sometime this year. Originally he wanted to locate his operation in Missouri but quickly found better opportunities in Illinois.
“We’re in Chicago lots,” Goede said. “We just haven’t seen that acceptance here in Missouri for a number of reasons, but policy has definitely been one of the things that I believe has allowed Illinois to progress to the point where they’re at today. ”
One of these policy issues which Prop C sought to address was a clause requiring Missouri’s four investor-owned utilities, including AmerenUE, to produce 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021 and to do it with in-state companies.
That last part, often called the “Missouri First” provision, was opposed by utility companies and was later stripped from the law.
Erin Noble is the former co-chair of Renew Missouri, a green energy advocacy group and lobbyist.
“Removing the sold-to-Missouri provision was a huge step backwards for Missouri and without it we will not be able to compete with states like Iowa, Illinois and Kansas,” Noble said.
Purchasing power from a wind farm in, say, Texas might be cheaper in the short run, says Noble but in the long run it means Missouri loses out of all the jobs, land-lease agreements and tax revenue that come with developing its own green energy.
“Without the sold to Missouri provision we’re only just outsourcing our utility dollars to buy renewable energy credits in other states,” Noble said.
Utilities however say the costs are unworkable, particularly since Prop C required them to hold rates to a one percent increase, while also meeting escalating renewable benchmarks.
“Those two requirements in the statute conflict,” Warren Wood said. Wood is a VP of Legislative Affairs at AmerenUE. “You were going to hit those cost caps well before you hit those 15 percent renewable resources by 2021 requirement. ”
Wood maintains that it would cost Missouri much more to produce wind energy on the same level as many of its neighbors.
“It strikes me as odd that the wind seems to cross Kansas, jump over Missouri, and come back down in Illinois,” Wood said. “We have some good wind available but only in certain portions of the state and often at higher altitude than you would find in some neighboring states which drives up the cost.”
In terms of policy, Illinois has set one of the most aggressive renewable standards in the country, with a 25 percent target (RPS) by 2025; with an 18 percent carve out for wind.
This despite the fact that Illinois ranks toward middle of the 50 states in terms of its wind resource.
According to Trey Goede this is a clear example of policy creating business.
“Wind does exist in Missouri comparable to Illinois,” Goede said. “We absolutely considered Missouri as a project opportunity site. But Illinois, with this policy was better suited for what we believed a ‘supply and demand situation’. ”
Last session state legislators reached a compromise to reinstate the “Missouri-first" provision, in exchange for lowering the target from 15 down to 7 percent renewables by 2021.
After initially supporting the bill Ameren changed course and lobbied against it. That bill died at the end of the session.
Supporters of green energy argue the political clout of utility companies is simply too great and the only way to push renewables might be to place another ballot measure up for a vote again in 2012.