Representatives from environmental groups Renew Missouri, Moms Clean Air Force and the Sierra Club on Wednesday presented Empire District-Liberty Utilities with an award, applauding the utility's wind-power generation plan and the Missouri Public Service Commission's recent advancement of the plan.
In July, the PSC stopped short of approving the entire plan but gave Empire permission to record the costs of building turbines and to have them included in its next rate case, if the project is eventually completed. The order also gave the company the authority to establish a framework by which depreciation of the wind turbines' value could be accounted for, according to Natelle Dietrich, PSC staff director.
Empire's original plan called for the generation of 800 megawatts of wind energy, more than triple its current amount. The proposal also initially included the closing of a coal-fired plant in Asbury. Throughout negotiations with regulators, though, the utility agreed to reduce its wind generation to 600 megawatts and to keep the Asbury plant open.
James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, said he expects the plan is headed for final approval after the PSC last month rejected a request by the Office of Public Counsel to reconsider its preliminary approvals. Owen was previously the director of the Office of Public Counsel.
He said he believes that the issue is going to be handled via "an accounting perspective. (But) I think there's still other things they're going to have to do. Ultimately they've gotten the approval to deal with this with their rates, and I think you're going to see this become a reality sometime in the near future."
The Office of Public Counsel said in August that the commission should reverse the order approving the plan, as well as toss out "non-pertinent and extraneous conclusions" it says were included in the document. The office also alleges that the commission relied on "non-evidentiary materials" in the order. It claims that Empire has not satisfied commission rules to get the approvals issued last month and that the order is not legally binding. The Office of Public Counsel, though, has not filed an appeal of the PSC's denial of its request.
Empire officials have previously said the wind-power plan could be completed in early 2019.
The environmental groups on Wednesday said that the plan is beneficial not only from an environmental standpoint but from an economical one.
"When you look at companies like Walmart, like General Motors, like Ford, like Anheuser Busch-InBev, those are companies that have a strong, very vibrant presence in Missouri, and they have made commitments to be 100 percent renewable," Owen said. "Anheuser Busch is in St. Louis, but they're starting to buy power from Oklahoma. They're not able to buy the power they need to run a sustainable corporation in Missouri."
Kay Mills, Missouri field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, said wind projects like the one Empire is proposing can improve the health of all people, especially children, by reducing pollutants in the atmosphere. Mills said 11 percent of children in Missouri have asthma, and that 6,000 cases per year can be attributed to coal-fired power plants.
"As parents, we do everything we can to keep our kids healthy," she said. "I make sure I take my kids to the doctor for their annual checkups, I make sure that they're riding in their car seats backward-facing until the right age requirements, I make sure that they eat healthy fruits and vegetables as much as I can and as much as they will. But what I can't do is make sure that the air they're breathing is good for their developing lungs. So we really applaud Empire District for moving to cleaner energy that's keeping our kids healthy."