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Energy activists seek to put renewable-energy standard on ballot  

Jane Gramlich takes steps to conserve energy whenever possible.

She and her partner, Steven Sloan, have switched to a high-efficiency heating system in their home in south St. Louis, near The Hill. They’ve switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs. They even hold potluck dinners at their home to engage friends in discussions of energy conservation.

Gramlich has now found a new way to try to make an impact on the energy she uses. She has begun collecting signatures as part of an effort to require utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of the energy they sell from renewable sources by 2020.If Gramlich and other like-minded people collect 150,000 signatures by May 4, they could place an initiative on the November ballot calling for a mandatory renewable-energy standard.

PJ Wilson, executive director of Renew Missouri, one of the agencies seeking the renewable-energy standard, said the effort is aimed toward energy independence, energy diversification and to stave off global climate change.

Wilson said he became aware of the country’s dependence on foreign oil after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said producing energy in Missouri through renewable resources would lessen the need to use diesel-fuel powered trains to bring coal here from other states.

“The theme here is localization and energy independence. Ultimately in looking to the future, we’re not going to be running our cars on gasoline forever,” Wilson said. “We’re going to be running them on electricity. And where is that electricity going to come from?”

Renew Missouri says on its Web site – www.renewmo.org – that 86 percent of the energy used in Missouri comes from coal-fired power plants. It also says more than $9 billion per year is used to purchase coal from other states.

Under the proposed initiative, wind power, solar power, landfill gas and energy created from plant matter all would qualify as renewable energy.

Erin Noble of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, based in University City, said the group rallied its volunteer base to gather signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. They gathered signatures outside of Busch Stadium during the Cardinals’ home opener and gathered more at the St. Louis Marathon April 6 and the municipal election April 8.

Noble said 25 states have put renewable energy standards in place. Colorado and Washington did it through public ballot initiatives. The people of Columbia, Mo., passed a similar initiative in their city. Columbia Water and Light is now exceeding its targets for use of renewable energy, Noble said. It uses wind power generated in northwest Missouri and energy from landfills in Columbia and Jefferson City.

“The tides are turning,” Noble said. “More and more people are understanding the importance of renewable energy.”

While energy independence and localization are big issues for Wilson, Noble said the Missouri Coalition for the Environment is most concerned about global climate change. She said coal-fired power plants produce mercury and other pollutants.

However, Noble said renewable energy can appeal to many groups. She said it can create jobs and investment in rural areas.

Three wind farms operated in northwest Missouri by Wind Capital Group represent $300 million in investment, Noble said.

“I imagine it could create green jobs in the St. Louis area as well,” Noble said.

Wilson said the only concern he has heard from Missourians is that a move to more renewable power would drastically increase the electric rates they pay. He said that’s why a provision of the proposed ballot initiative stipulates the change cannot affect rates by more than 1 percent. He said that would be in line with how rates have changed in other states that adopted renewable-energy standards.

Tim Fox, a spokesman for AmerenUE, said the company supports the development of renewable energy and will soon commit to purchasing 100 megawatts of wind power to add to AmerenUE’s system. However, he said AmerenUE does not support mandates.

Fox said the price of renewable energy is high, and there is competition for parts for wind turbines and other equipment used to generate the power. For a wind farm project to come together, Fox said, a company would need a lot of land, plenty of wind and a way to connect them to a power transmission system.

“At this point it’s difficult in Missouri to build wind farms,” he said.

AmerenUE would prefer the market dictate use of renewable energy, Fox said. If more becomes available, the price goes down, and it would become a more attractive option, he said.

An effort to pass a similar measure in the state legislature failed. An aide for state Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, said Senate Bill 1262 – which is making its way through the legislative process – is the third attempt by legislators to create a renewable-energy standard. She said Bray has offered or supported amendments to each bill to make it mandatory.

Wilson said it would be cheaper to have the legislature pass its bill, but he doesn’t believe there is time to wait for the legislature to come around.

Noble said politicians seem to lag behind the general public in supporting such issues.

“This hasn’t happened nationally,” Noble said. “This hasn’t happened locally. We know we have to take the initiative and bring it to the voters. We’re going to make it happen ourselves.”

By Shawn Clubb
You can contact Shawn Clubb at sclubb@yourjournal.com.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 2:18 PM CDT

westcountyjournal.stltoday.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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