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Update: Empire executives hope to have approval of wind farms expedited

In a story News Talk KZRG brought you first, Empire-Liberty Utilities has filed a proposal with the Missouri Public Service Commission to close the Asbury plant by April 2019, affecting 55 employees. Empire-Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of the Canadian owned Algonquin Power & Utilities Corporation that is heavily reliant on renewable energy. They’re also asking for approval to install wind farms across southwest Missouri at a cost of $1.5 billion dollars, while also receiving $800 million dollars in tax credits to help off-set the costs. Those tax credits run out in 2020. News Talk KZRG asked Vice President of Operations Blake Mertens why our tax dollars should fund this project.

“We as tax payers pay a small portion of that $800 million dollars, but those tax credits are born by all tax payers across the country, so it is wise for us to take advantage of those tax credits here locally.”

While Empire-Liberty Utilities has not included a request for a rate increase pertaining to this project, in the past, those rate increases are requested upon the completion of projects. Empire-Liberty Utilities currently has the highest power rates in the state of Missouri.

News Talk KZRG asked Mertens if consumers could expect to see another rate case filed following the completion of the proposed wind farms.

“We don’t have specifics on what our next rate case will look like, but if we didn’t do this, then the rate increase that we would ask for during our next case would be higher. Undoubtedly, as with every business, costs are increasing, and we look to pass those increased costs onto our customers to provide them with the service that we do.”

A demand for green energy was also cited as one of the factors for this plan in the filings submitted to the Missouri Public Service Commission. We asked Mertens how that demand is quantified.

“I don’t think we have any market research that shows here in southwest Missouri that green energy is the number one driver. We have local industrial customers come in our area that ask for green attributes to be able to tell customers and their consumers that they’re building products that are built with green energy.”

Empire-Liberty Utilities has been in talks with farmers in the area to lease 40,000 acres of land. Each two megawatt turbine is estimated to cost approximately $3 million dollars. News Talk KZRG asked Mertens if there could be issues with eminent domain.

“We’ll use existing right of ways that we have through our different franchises, and then we’ve been looking for different land owners that are willing participants, and not trying to force them to participate in a wind farm.”

Officials say wind energy could save the average user about $10 per month. Spokeswoman Julie Maus explains.

“We won’t have the fuel costs that are incurred as Asbury, or the operating and maintenance costs that are associated with the on-going operations there. In fuel savings, those costs and savings are passed onto customers through the fuel adjustment on their bill.”

Maus estimates the project could save over $150 million dollars over twenty years.

Officials say they hope to have the plan approval expedited by the Commission by June 2018, which is comprised of four commissioners, a chairman, and the governor.

Mertens says we can expect to see another rate case filed in 2019 before the wind farm is installed.

“As part of our fuel adjustment clause, at least in the state of Missouri, we’re required to go in at least once every three to four years, so I think the time frame on that is that we have to go in a case sometime in the 2019 time frame, so we’ll have to go for a case before the wind farm goes into service.”

Those same commissioners, who were appointed by then Governor Jay Nixon, will also make the decision on the rate cases.

If you’d like to leave a comment with the Public Service Commission on this proposed project, click here.