Blown out: Missouri lags in wind production

By Jack Suntrup

Missouri doesn’t have the coal-laced hillsides of other states, yet more than 80 percent of the state’s energy comes from the fossil fuel. The black stuff is shipped in by rail or truck to feed Missouri’s energy appetite. Despite having the potential to help fuel the state with wind turbines, with energy produced in the state, investors have largely stayed out of Missouri.
Missouri was once considered a promising market. The northwestern, north-central and southwest parts of the state are ripe with powerful, sustained gusts. But there are just six wind farms in Missouri, the last being built in four years ago. In 2012, Iowa produced 12 times more wind energy than Missouri. The resources are there, but the political will to encourage investment isn’t.

In 2012, after working for years to build a wind farm in the north-central part of the state, TradeWind CEO Rob Freeman announced the company was pulling out of Missouri. He said the company would shift its focus to states where there was a “clear commitment” to wind energy.

Ouch. Meanwhile, two neighboring states—Illinois and Iowa—have invested. Here’s some of what they’re doing that Missouri isn’t.

Missouri currently only has six wind farms despite its potential. Graphic by the NRDC

Graphic by the NRDC

• Potential: Sustained gusts are important in the world of wind energy. Iowa, with a large dark blue tint, does have some advantage over Missouri. But Missouri does have potential. Most of the prime space is in the northwest corner of the state, though there are pockets of high-potential land in north-central and southwest Missouri.

• Incentives: Iowa and Illinois provide tax incentives tailored toward renewable energy. Brian Dabson, a professor at the University of Missouri who has researched the state’s energy makeup, said a barrier for growth in Missouri is that the state doesn’t have specific tax incentives for wind energy.

Iowa's energy portfolio has been diversifying since the state passed a renewable energy standard 30 years ago. Graphic from the NRDC

Graphic by the NRDC

• An Early Start: Iowa has had a renewable energy standard for more than 30 years, mandating a percentage of the state’s energy has to come from renewable sources. Missouri voters passed a standard in 2008. The statute mandates that Missouri must get 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2021. Shifting from coal has been a challenge. Since adding 149 megawatts worth of wind energy to its grid in 2010, growth has stagnated. Missouri only added 1.5 megawatts the next year.

Illinois has tax incentives tailored toward the wind industry and a large Chicago market to boost demand. Graphic from the NRDC

Graphic by the NRDC

• The market: Storing and transmitting power throughout entire states is a challenge, but Chicago is a huge market that demands energy. The National Resource Defense Council argues that Missouri’s largest metros could drive demand in the state. Columbia, Mo. has been in talks with wind energy providers to satisfy its renewable energy standard.

*The above maps from the Natural Resources Defense Council and show existing projects in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Darker blue tints mean that area has more potential for generating enough wind for utilities.

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