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Empire says wind plan can still go forward; Utility had asked PSC for ruling by June 30

Liberty Utilities-Empire District had initially asked the Missouri Public Service Commission to make a ruling on its proposed wind energy generation plan by June 30, but the company says it anticipates an answer from regulators in the coming weeks.

That time frame, a company spokesperson said Thursday, will allow enough time for the project to go forward if it is approved. When Empire first unveiled its plans to create hundreds of megawatts of electrical power with wind turbines in the area, it said a determination from the PSC would be needed by the end of last month in order to get the project online in time to take advantage of federal tax credits that are to assist in the financing of the plan.

No ruling had been made by the PSC as of Thursday afternoon. The utility is confident, though, that the commission’s order will still come in time.

“We are currently waiting for the Missouri Public Service Commission to issue an order regarding our Customer Savings Plan, which we anticipate within the next several weeks,” the company said in a statement emailed to the Globe. “The issuance will fall into our proposed time frame.”

The company plans to pursue an equity partnership that would take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax incentives to finance roughly half of the project, but the credits expire in 2020.

Empire’s original proposal called for a $1.5 billion project that would generate 800 megwatts of wind energy â€“ more than triple its previous levels â€“ and close its coal-fired plant in Asbury more than 15 years early. Throughout the course of negotiations, though, the utility agreed to delay the closure of the coal plant and to scale back the targeted production to 600 megawatts.

A late April stipulation and agreement filed between Empire, the Midwest Energy Consumers Group, PSC staff, the Missouri Division of Economic Development and Renew Missouri Advocates all recommended that the PSC move the project forward on the condition that the coal-fired plant in Asbury not be shuttered “at this time.”

The agreement still says that the Asbury plant’s “future operations shall be determined at the discretion of management” but specifies that it will not be closed as a part of the wind plan. The early retirement of the coal plant while its costs remained in Empire’s rate base was a major sticking point for regulators earlier this year.

The original plan that would have closed the plant could have affected approximately 50 jobs there, Empire has previously said.

The Office of Public Counsel was not a party to the agreement and has previously testified that it opposes the wind plan because it believes the company already has sufficient energy generation and that the plan would cause rates to go up, as opposed to the decrease Empire has said the plan will allow.

Empire maintains that the pivot to wind energy generation will save customers money because of a dramatic flip in market forces. The company says it becomes far more feasible economically to generate wind power as the cost continues to drop. The company estimates its costs for generating power with coal at Asbury are about $38 per megawatt-hour but would be close to $24 with wind.