Leading Missouri Congressional members applauded President Trump’s decision last week to try and dismantle the Obama era Clean Power Plan.
After Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt signaled the action by declaring that the “war on coal” is over, Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt praised the move and noted that the state derives 80% of its electricity from coal.
Third District Republican Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer said he was “incredibly pleased” with the administration’s announcement to scrap the regulation, while acknowledging that 85% of the state’s electricity is generated by coal combustion.
But those statements on percentages could be high after a surge in the use of renewable energy over the past few-years led to the retirement of numerous coal fired plants. Sierra Club Missouri Chapter Director John Hickey pegs the percentage a bit lower. “I think it’s down in the mid 70’s now because we’ve had so many retirements lately”.
Hickey says municipal utilities in Columbia and Springfield are now purchasing wind energy at 20%-to-25% cheaper than they can generate coal.
Joel Alexander of City Utilities (CU) in Springfield says the sharp drop in the cost of renewables has been nothing short of stunning. “I think if you told any utility with a generating capacity 10 years ago that you’d be looking at renewables at a cost that they are now, we would have just said no, that’s just not going to happen,” said Alexander. “But things change and things change drastically.”
Springfield’s CU still derives the largest share of its energy from two coal fired plants that generate 500 megawatts of power. However, one of the facilities will be retiring with the addition of 200 megawatts the city is in the process of bringing online from a wind farm in Oklahoma. Springfield currently generates 359 megawatts of power from existing wind farms.
According to Alexander, CU’s JTEC2 power plant which came online in 2011 is likely the last coal-fired power plant the utility will build. He says economics have limited the fossil fuel’s future. “It’s going to take a huge difference in the cost between coal and natural gas at this point to really look at bringing coal back, for us anyway.”
The city of Columbia has also aggressively moved toward renewable energy. Mayor Brian Treece affiliated with the group Climate Mayors shortly after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accords earlier this year.
He notes the city recently signed a contract with a wind supplier at the cost of two-cents per kilowatt, which is cheaper than any form of power it produces itself. “Our whole sale cost of producing our own energy, whether we use coal or bio-mass is three-cents,” said Treece. “So this really is about economic competitiveness as much as it is about protecting the environment.”
Treece also points out that Columbia sets its own goals for use of renewable energy. “We were the first city in the state of Missouri to have a renewable energy mandate. We now acquire 15 percent of our energy from renewable sources, like solar and wind. That number is supposed to increase to 25 percent by 2023.”
Meanwhile, Springfield has reached a higher plateau with wind now supplying 33% of the city’s electricity.
Alexander, of Springfield CU, says it’s been on track to meet Clean Power Plan standards because it accepted the regulations and quickly figured out the changes it needed to make. “When the Clean Power Plan was first announced and discussed, we did some changes and we made some decisions that needed to be made.”
According to Alexander, unlike in Columbia, Springfield CU has no mandate to meet carbon emissions or renewable energy use. He says, instead, expanded reliance on wind energy has been brought on by several factors, including customer demand and favorable opportunities.
“At the end of the day, when that light switch comes on and whatever you for need for the electricity source, we think it’s at a very attractive price point. And we’re doing that with about 30% renewables in our portfolio.”
Springfield and Columbia are by municipal utilities. Ameren Missouri, the state’s largest investor utility, announced a billion-dollar investment in wind power in late September. In 2014, Kansas City Power & Light stated that its investment in wind energy would save customers $1 billion over 20 years.
While the state, on balance, still has a heavy reliance on coal fired energy, the Sierra Club’s John Hickey points out the coal industry itself is practically nonexistent. “You know there’s only one tiny coal mine operating in the state of Missouri,” Hickey said. “It has a dozen or two workers.”
The last operating coal mine in Missouri, Hume II, is located near the western Missouri town of Hume.