We think the Missouri Public Service Commission made the right call last week when it agreed to allow Liberty Utilities-Empire District to begin work on a 600-megawatt wind project in the region.
The turbines — about 280 of them — will be split among two spots in Southwest Missouri and a third location in Southeast Kansas. The work is to start this fall.
This plan has the support of environmental groups such as Renew Missouri and the Sierra Club, and the Missouri Division of Energy, part of the state's Department of Economic Development. The majority of people who testified during a public hearing on the project held in Joplin earlier this year also were supportive.
It's not lost on us that as the Environmental Protection Agency spends millions of dollars annually cleaning up our air, soil and water from heavy metal contamination left as a result of decades of mining, state and federal regulators at the same time continue to permit pollution of that same air, soil and water from a variety of sources, including coal-burning power plants, that sometimes discharge those same heavy metals.
The reality is that while utilities such as Liberty-Empire have invested hundreds of millions to filter and scrub what is coming out of their stacks, nothing rivals wind for being clean, and as Liberty-Empire has pointed out since announcing its plans, "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.”
In 1997, Empire's power generation was approximately 52% locally burned coal, and 41% purchased power, much of that also coal. In 2023, when all turbines are on line, the utility will be about 40% wind, with another 10% of purchased wind, and 21% coal (locally generated and purchased) and 25% natural gas. Liberty-Empire also gets a small percentage of its electricity from the Ozark Beach (Taneycomo) dam.
This was a good decision for the region's economy, too, as it means an investment of more than $1 billion, and agreements with many area farmers and others who will lease land for the turbines.
This step forward greatly reduces what we used to call our "dependence" on fossil fuels. The truth is that we are becoming less and less dependent on them every day, and we need to continue moving away from them.