Saying that Liberty Utilities-Empire District has proven its case, the Missouri Public Service Commission today ruled that it can go forward with its modified wind energy generation plan.

Empire's original proposal called for a $1.5 billion project that would add hundreds of wind turbines in the region and generate 800 megwatts of wind energy — more than triple its previous levels — and close its coal-fired plant in Asbury more than 15 years early. Throughout the course of negotiations, though, the utility agreed to delay the closure of the coal plant and to scale back the targeted production to 600 megawatts.

The company plans to pursue an equity partnership that would take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax incentives to finance roughly half of the project, but the credits expire in 2020.

A late April stipulation and agreement filed between Empire, the Midwest Energy Consumers Group, PSC staff, the Missouri Division of Economic Development and Renew Missouri Advocates all recommended that the PSC move the project forward on the condition that the coal-fired plant in Asbury not be shuttered "at this time."

Empire maintains that the pivot to wind energy generation will save customers money because of a dramatic flip in market forces. The company says it becomes far more feasible economically to generate wind power as the cost continues to drop. The company estimates its costs for generating power with coal at Asbury are about $38 per megawatt-hour but would be close to $24 with wind.

Empire currently has more than 50,000 acres of land under lease in Jasper, Barton, Dade and Lawrence counties and agreements with more than 100 local landowners for wind turbines.

Empire serves more than 150,000 customers in Southwest Missouri as well as customers in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Renew Missouri, a not-for-profit group focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency policy, praised the Public Service Commission for its decision.

“This is not only a win for renewable energy,” Executive Director James Owen, who is also the former acting director of the Office of Public Counsel, said in a statement, “this is a win for the local economy in Southwest Missouri. More and more, large companies are basing their decision on locating to areas where they have access to sustainable energy. We have seen businesses invest in neighboring states like Iowa — where the government and utilities have committed to wind power production — while leaving Missouri in the dust.”