MissouriNet: Missouri to allow state’s third largest regulated utility to move aggressively toward wind power

The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) has given initial approval for the state’s third-largest regulated utility, Empire District, to build a major wind farm to generate power.

In a statement, the PSC said, “the Commission has granted Empire certain accounting and depreciation treatment related to the CSP (Empire’s proposal known as it’s “Customer Savings Plan”)as well as a variance from the Commission’s affiliate transaction rule.”

Joplin based Empire will have to make another presentation before the commission before being granted authority to construct a farm to create 600 megawatts of wind power.

Empire initially planned to shut down its coal-fired plant which generates 213 megawatts but has agreed to leave the facility in southwest Missouri’s Asbury open for the near term. The utility had said shuttering the operation could have affected approximately 50 jobs there.

The PSC noted in its statement that Empire would generate customer savings of approximately $169 million over 20 years and approximately $295 million over 30 years.

In a proposal, Empire determined the $1 billion project would save residential customers $9.33 per month or nearly $112 per year in energy costs for the 20-year period.

Although there’s no question that wind is a far cleaner source of energy than coal, there’s been strong opposition to the plan from the state Office of Public Counsel and the City of Joplin.

The Office of Public Counsel is charged with serving the interests of customers and is concerned about the impact of the project on ratepayers. Geoff Marke is the Chief Economist with the Counsel. He claims rosy predictions of customer savings is based on unrealistic projections by Empire that it’ll be able to sell excess generation of wind power on the open market at a high price.

“The market is being inundated with wind as we speak,” said Marke. “Wind is coming online and it’s coming online at an increasingly fast clip. I don’t think they’re modeling it correctly. I don’t think they’re modeling for as much in penetration of wind as is going to come online.”

Marke notes a proposal by American Electric Power (AEP) in Oklahoma called Wind Catcher would generate 2,000-megawatts. “It’s huge,” Marke said. “It’ll be the largest wind project in the United States. If that goes forward, the sheer presence of Wind Catcher will depress the market valuation of the Empire project.”

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