Construction will begin this fall on a 600-megawatt wind project in Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas, following approval of the plan by the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Liberty Utilities-Empire District announced Thursday that it has received the needed regulatory approval to go forward with the project, representing an investment of more than $1 billion.
The turbines will be split among two spots in Southwest Missouri and a third location in Southeast Kansas. The two sites in Missouri, which will generate 150 megawatts each, are being called King’s Point and North Fork Ridge, and turbines will go up in parts of Jasper, Barton, Lawrence and Dade counties.
The utility has tens of thousands of acres under lease for the turbines, although only part of that land will be used.
About 140 turbines will be needed in Missouri. Tenaska, based in Omaha, Nebraska, will develop and manage the Missouri wind turbines.
The other half of the company’s wind production — 139 turbines — will be built in Neosho County, Kansas, north of Parsons. Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, will develop and manage the Kansas wind turbines.
On Wednesday, the PSC unanimously granted the Joplin-based utility what are known as certificates of convenience and necessity to acquire, once completed, the wind farms.
“This approval marks the beginning of the construction phase for the company’s wind generation sites, which will be the first of their kind in Southwest Missouri,” the company said in a statement announcing the PSC decision.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
Liberty-Empire also said it expects to meet a significant portion of the financing requirements through the use of existing federal tax credits, and is projecting customer savings of $169 million over the first 20 years after implementation and $300 million over 30 years.
The company plans to pursue a financing partnership with Wells Fargo that would take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax incentives to pay for roughly half of the project, but the credits begin to expire in 2020.
Liberty had previously said, "Changes in costs, innovation, and technology have made this abundant, natural resource (wind) a cost-effective and reliable way to produce the renewable energy our customers expect.”
However, those benefits for customers had been challenged by the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, which represents ratepayers before the PSC.
OPC was concerned, according to a recent filing, that Liberty-Empire had not provd the savings it said the customers would see by going forward with this project.
Unlike the OPC, the staff of the PSC considers the effects of utility matters on other groups besides ratepayers, including shareholders, and makes recommendations to the five commissioners. It argued that agreements have already been made on the conditions that will ensure the wind plan benefits customers.
Liberty also has cited the benefits the wind turbines will bring to area farmers and area communities, such as tax revenue, and hundreds of construction jobs.
David Swain, Liberty Utilities Central Region president, said in a statement on Thursday, “Projects like these wind farms benefit our region today and will for decades to come. We’re thrilled to move forward on this project and to bring local, renewable energy to the region.”
Other parties involved in the case, such as environmental groups Renew Missouri and the Sierra Club, have indicated in filings that they back Liberty-Empire's plan. The Missouri Division of Energy, an agency under the umbrella of the state's Department of Economic Development, also supports the proposal. The majority of people who testified during a public hearing on the project held in Joplin earlier this year also were supportive.
Empire’s original proposal called for a $1.5 billion project that would generate 800 megawatts of wind energy and result in closing 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-fired plant and to scale back the targeted production to 600 megawatts.