Missouri has largely relied on coal-fired power plants, but a major utility company in the state is making an early transition to renewable energy. Empire District Electric Company will be retiring the Asbury Power Plant well ahead of schedule. It’s a step further than another utility company in St. Louis that will gradually switch over in the coming years.
Empire filed their plans with state regulators back on October 31st to begin shutting down their coal-fired power plant while also building a new $1.5 billion wind farm in southwestern Missouri. The utility serves residents in Joplin and Springfield, and the 800-megawatt wind farm would be located in a rural area north of Joplin.
An estimated completion date for the wind farm hasn’t been announced but wind turbines would start being constructed next year. Empire has already mapped out a potential 40,000 acres that wind turbines could be installed in the counties of Jasper, Barton, Dade, and Lawrence. The Asbury Power Plant would close by April 2019.
Empire’s new project will end up being the biggest among other large-scale wind farms. Atchinson County will host a farm with a capacity of 300 megawatts that goes online later this season. Another utility company that powers St. Louis, Ameren, is building a 700-megawatt wind farm with an investment of $1 billion.
There’s plenty of benefits when it comes to the state switching over to this renewable power. During the construction of the wind farm in Atchinson County, a local auto repair company told the Joplin Globe that they’ve regularly had work thanks to contractors that are installing turbines. As expected, that’s aided other businesses in the area.
For the new wind project in Joplin, energy production costs will also decrease. According to Empire, wind turbines will cost $24 per megawatt, which is $14 less than what it costs at the Asbury Power Plant. That plant also features a significantly less capacity of 198 megawatts.
One issue that’s been raised is when the right time is to shut down these coal-fired power plants. Is it worth shutting them down when they still have years of life in them? Ashok Gupta, an economist for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Kansas City, believes that early closing dates make sense financially and Ameren should do the same.
Ameren plans to shut down coal plants routinely over the next 20 years. “The important thing is not the retirement dates but the carbon reduction goals,” Ajay Arora, Ameren’s vice president of environmental services, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’ll always be keeping affordability, reliability and carbon emissions in mind as we plan for the future.”
Regardless of when these coal-fired power plants will shut down, the future is bright for wind generation in Missouri. American Wind Energy Association spokesman Evan Vaughan notes that 90 percent of farming can still take place under wind farms and bigger wind turbines can extend the range of wind generation.