Competitive marketplace for energy drives lower costs, cleaner air

from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

August 12, 2016

When it comes to energy generation, business as usual is hurting Missouri. Antiquated state laws are holding back investments in cheaper, cleaner electricity from renewable sources. The state’s biggest job creators have voiced concerns that they would like to build and buy renewable energy through stable, long-term contracts, as is possible in other states. Thousands of jobs for the construction and operation of locally sourced renewable power are left on the sidelines.

That’s why Cargill, General Mills, Unilever and Wal-Mart are asking for new state laws that will let them purchase more cheap and clean renewable power, such as wind and solar. These businesses and others are required under current law to purchase power from the state’s utilities, preventing them from pursuing cleaner or lower-cost options available from renewable-energy providers. In what industry besides energy is every business required to buy a product from a single provider, even when there are better, more affordable options available?

More than that, business as usual is hurting Missourians where it counts most: their children’s health. All but one Missouri county for which there is information gets a grade of “F” for smog from the American Lung Association. St. Louis ranks as the 18th-most-polluted metropolitan area in the country. This puts the 156,000 Missouri children with asthma at greater risk for missing school and being hospitalized, and jeopardizes the health of 2 million Missourians with serious health conditions. Our faith makes it imperative to defend our children and deliver them a healthier, more sustainable future.

Missouri can be a leader in clean energy. Our groups believe conservatives have the genuine interest and tools to lead the charge and make that future clearer and more achievable. Whether it’s our evangelical faith or a faith in the power of markets, we agree that, with the right changes, Missouri can create a cleaner, more competitive future.

In late July, the Evangelical Environmental Network delivered to Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders the names of more than 19,000 Christians in Missouri who support a significant increase in renewable power in the state. They see that new technologies can clean up our environment, improve our children’s health and build a more sustainable future — if we allow the market to flourish.

There’s a clear way forward, and it starts with simple changes. The state’s utilities can only provide the types of power that legislators and regulators permit. But individual citizens and companies demand more access to clean power. Let’s empower Missouri businesses to choose alternative sources and build a market for renewable energy.

To deliver better, cleaner options to Missouri’s companies, the state should support a new legislative push to allow businesses to buy power from renewable-energy providers. Introduced by state Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Independence, this bill would remove restrictions on Power Purchase Agreements. Such arrangements allow new, in-state investments in clean, low-cost renewable power, bring in high-skilled job opportunities, and give businesses access to a reliable, long-term source of electricity.

It’s clean energy driven by cost-competitiveness and commitment to sustainability, not government mandates.

We can do better by households, too. Current policy supports net metering, which allows individual customers to offset their own power usage with wind or solar at home and sell it back to the utility. But two limits — the size of at-home units and the low price customers can fetch for excess power — keep the program out of reach for all but the most motivated customers. A 2015 study from the Missouri Energy Initiative found that net-metering programs provide a benefit to all utility customers, suggesting the whole state stands to gain from a healthier program.

Whether it’s a commitment to free markets or a deeply held interest in making investments that will make our air cleaner and our communities healthier, it’s clear that Missouri stands to gain from these changes. These kinds of new solutions challenge the traditional model of state-regulated power utilities and create opportunities for more competition, freer markets and a better future for Missouri.