(Updated at 10:25 p.m. on Thursday)
A report from the NAACP says Missouri should increase production of renewable power and require utilities to offer energy efficiency programs.
Accomplishing those goals, the report says, could provide better health, cheaper utility bills and more manufacturing jobs in the state’s urban core.
The report released on Thursday said that 68 percent of African Americans throughout the country live within a 30-mile radius of coal-power plants. That proximity, the study says, leads to more asthma among African-American children and lung disease.
”It is past time to revolutionize the relationship communities of color have with this multi-billion dollar industry,” the report said, referring to the energy industry. “Leading in a new energy economy serves as a pathway out of poor health, poverty and joblessness while establishing a foundation of energy resources and security for generations to come.”
While the report commended Missouri’s 15 percent renewable energy requirement by 2021, it added that the state should strive for a 25 percent requirement by 2025. It also said that Missouri should require utilities to have energy efficiency programs – instead of making them voluntary. And it recommended that the state expand training programs and notification about procurement opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
Most of these recommendations would require changes to Missouri’s state laws. But if accomplished, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt says the urban core could benefit.
Not only would the health of African-American families improve if Missouri used less coal power, Pruitt said, but it could also mean lower utility bills for poor families. He also said that even though wind power may be located primarily in outstate Missouri, the technology can be manufactured in cities.
“It’s going to create all sorts of jobs," Pruitt said. "We’re also looking at some re-entry programs for prisoners where we can move them to a point where they can install solar panels and learn some of the things from that industry.”
Missouri Sierra Club President John Hickey predicted more economic opportunity if the state adopted a more robust energy efficiency program.
“The thing about energy efficiency jobs is they’re local,” Hickey said. “You can’t take an installation job and do it in China instead of in St. Louis because the job has to be done here.”
Ameren sent St. Louis Public Radio the following comments in response to query about the NAACP study:
"Ameren Missouri has invested in the largest energy efficiency program in the state of Missouri since last year. You can read more about our EE programs here. We are committed to energy efficiency as an important money saving option for our customers.
As far as our commitment to renewable, we would also direct you to our website. Our Maryland Heights Renewable Energy Center is one of the largest trash-to-energy centers in the U.S. We have invested in hydroelectric power for more than a century and we are building the O'Fallon Renewable Energy Center that will harness solar power for our customers. You see we have implemented numerous renewable energy initiatives and they are successful."
Still, even if Missouri state laws change, the fact remains the vast majority of the state’s power comes from coal. When asked whether Missouri could realistically expect to wean itself off that type of power, Hickey said, “This could happen quickly.”
“Right now, the state of Kansas produces over 15 percent of its electricity from wind,” said Hickey, adding that Texas also bolstered its production of wind power production. “There are other states close to Missouri that are already doing this. There’s really no excuse for Missouri to be so behind the curve.”
And while Pruitt said that shifting away from coal power is “not going to happen overnight,” he added, “we’re one of the greatest countries in the world. I think we can find a way to migrate away from coal.”
“We just want to make sure that state government does what it needs to do in order to bring the state along to create those green jobs and help bring the economy along,” Pruitt said.