by Don Corrigan
This Halloween season, energy consumers are getting frightening news about proposed price hikes for electric, natural gas, heating oil and more. Kirkwood Electric recently informed customers of an increase per kilowatt hour for their electricity.
Kirkwood Electric Director Mark Petty said he does see light at the end of the tunnel – some cheaper, greener energy is in Kirkwood’s future. He said this is because Kirkwood belongs to a city consortium supporting the Grain Belt Express, which has scored some recent successes.
The Grain Belt Express is a transmission line designed to bring in power from wind turbines in southwest Kansas. The project developer is Chicago-based Invenergy, which has now navigated objections to the line from rural legislators and groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Invenergy recently announced that its energy delivery, via Missouri electric towers, will increase five-fold from 500 to 2,500 megawatts. The plan also now adds an extra 40-mile line, to be called the “Tiger Connector,” to enter the electrical grid tying in at Callaway County.
“It’s all good,” said Petty. “We’re excited about the future because of this project. The current state of affairs in the energy business proves that the municipal utilities model of local control and ownership drives us to do the right things for our customers and the region.”
“We’re well on our way because the project has obtained an overwhelming majority of the easements, now has Public Service Commission approval, and now has a legislative framework,” said Petty. “That framework will move us forward to more green transmission projects for Missouri.”
According to Petty, Missouri cities like Hannibal, Springfield and Kirkwood have supported the energy project for years. He said everyone is “jumping on the bandwagon now” and the cleaner, cheaper energy for Missouri will save money for homeowners and businesses.
“New business developments will want to locate to our area, because we’ll be poised to meet their goals as stewards of the environment,” said Petty. “All the transmission line projects currently underway, and in the pipeline, are good news for Kirkwood Electric.
“The electrical grid is a complicated network with multiple paths for energy to flow,” Petty explained. “Our area has been in need of transmission upgrades for some time. The Tiger Connector plan will be good for everyone in our area.”
Missouri voters called for greener, renewable energy at the ballot box years ago. They passed the Proposition C Clean Energy Initiative in 2008 by 65% statewide and by even larger margins in Webster-Kirkwood.
In 2008, Missouri was one of the worst states for fossil fuel pollution with 82% of its electrical energy needs being met by burning coal. State officials have been slow to act to get the state off coal and to be in compliance with guidelines approved almost 15 years ago.
“Cities like Kirkwood have gotten burned in the past with their tie-in to the Prairie State Coal Plant in Illinois to supply cheap energy. That energy turned out to be very expensive,” said Henry Robertson, state energy chair for the Missouri Sierra Club.
“It’s going to be a real plus for Kirkwood and all cities to get off coal and move to green wind turbine electricity,” added Robertson. “It’s going to happen, but it has been taking so long for it to happen.”
Before moving to a Sierra Club position, Robertson was the energy attorney for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. In that position, he said he sat in many Public Service Commission meetings taking up the Grain Belt Express starting in 2014.
“We’re getting there with cleaner energy, but it’s been frustrating,” said Robertson. “All the roadblocks that the state legislature has thrown up against green energy have been very disappointing, especially when the voters made clear they wanted green energy back in 2008.”
Kirkwood Electric’s Petty said it’s understandable that voters and customers have been frustrated about the pace of change in the state’s electric utility industry.
“Those of us in the municipal electric business share that same frustration,” said Petty. “As young folks, many of us got into the business to make people’s lives better.
“We like nothing better than to put that hardhat on, get out in the dirt, and watch the heavy moving equipment build new and more efficient generation equipment,” Petty added.
But Petty said it’d been a slow process to work thru back-office regulatory and legislative channels to get all the permits – before concrete and steel get in the ground and lines can go up. He said it’s a good thing, though, to allow everyone input when big-ticket projects take place.
“Unfortunately that does lengthen the process, but it can improve a project and make it better,” said Petty. “It’s always a good idea to plan your work and then work out your plan. Municipal utilities have a long track record for successfully building large projects and getting them done.”
Wind Energy Delivery
Groups in support of the Grain Belt Express green energy project have included Associated Industries of Missouri, Clean Grid Alliance, Sierra Club, RENEW Missouri and the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission.
State legislators with ties to the fossil fuel industry have opposed the wind energy project. Farm groups also have fought the project for years over opposition to the use of eminent domain for siting of transmission towers.
Some rural landowners and farmers supported legislation meant to derail the project, including one proposal that would have given county commissions veto power over transmission projects. Farmers wanted more money for land acquisition, and resulting legislation could have killed the project.
“Invenergy has always been more than generous to the farmers with their compensation for access to their property. Its supported the generous compensation spelled out in a legislative compromise that was reached in 2021,” said Petty of Kirkwood Electric.
“While a few farmers still remain skeptical about Invenergy’s intention to make this a win-win situation for all, over 70% of the landowners and a majority of folks do understand it and are on board,” Petty added.
According to Petty, it’s just a matter a time before everyone will be on the same page with the Grain Belt project. The plan will be delivering wind energy later this decade. He said it’s good for Kirkwood, good for Missouri, and good for the future of Midwest electric utilities.