Government panel recommends renewable energy goal for state

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A government task force on Monday recommended the state set a goal for utility corporations to produce 10 percent of their electricity by 2020 through renewable energy sources, such as wind.

But members of Gov. Matt Blunt's Missouri Energy Task Force shied away from suggesting the target become a requirement -- a move favored by some environmentalists.

Task force chairman Jeff Davis, who also is chairman of the utility-regulating Missouri Public Service Commission, said requiring a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources likely would lead utilities to seek rate increases to cover the new costs.

Instead, the panel's recommendation calls for utilities to "make a good faith effort" to reach the 10 percent target while still providing "reliable, low-cost" electricity. The target would apply only to the state's four investor-owned electric utilities, not those run by municipalities or cooperatives.

Those investor-owned utilities -- AmerenUE, Kansas City Power & Light Co., Aquila Inc. and The Empire District Electric Co. -- serve more than 1.8 million customers, about 63 percent of all electricity customers statewide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The task force's recommendation embraces the concepts in legislation by Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, who said even a baby step toward encouraging more environmentally friendly energy production should be considered a success.

His bill would leave it to the PSC to decide whether corporate utilities are making "a good-faith effort" toward the goal of producing 7 percent of their electricity through renewable sources by 2015 and 10 percent by 2020.

Koster said a little more than 2 percent of Missouri's electric energy currently comes from renewable sources. His bill defines renewable energy technology to include solar power, wind, hydroelectric power and hydrogen from "biomass" such as trees, food and agricultural crop waste.

A separate bill by Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would apply to all electricity providers -- not just invester-owned companies -- and mandate a 3 percent renewable threshold by 2013, 6 percent by 2017 and 10 percent by 2021.

The state chapter of the Sierra Club said Graham's mandates are preferable over Koster's goals. If the state sets a requirement, a private sector market will naturally emerge to meet the new demand for renewable energy technology, said Wallace McMullen, chairman of the Sierra Club's energy committee.

"I have not seen any sort of voluntary target in this area be effective," he said.

Twenty-one states already have some sort of standard for the generation of electricity by renewable energy sources, according to information distributed by Koster to the task force.

A similar gubernatorial energy policy task force recommended in 2001 that Missouri adopt a requirement for invester-owned utilities to generate 6 percent of their electricity using renewable fuel sources by 2015. But that recommendation never became law.

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