Missouri economy enjoys green energy growth

Source: By Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star • Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Missouri has to continue to plant strong roots in the green economy.

A new report from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and MEI (the Missouri Energy Initiative) shows that nearly 40,000 people in more than 4,400 establishments in the state are employed in green sectors of the economy.

“This number is roughly double Iowa’s clean energy and transportation workforce but less than half the workers in Illinois and Massachusetts, suggesting room for growth,” the report says.

Missouri’s green industry includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced transportation and greenhouse gas emissions management and accounting.

The energy efficiency sector has 32,576 clean energy workers. That’s 83 percent of all clean energy jobs in the state, the report notes. Renewable energy companies account for 15 percent of clean energy employment, or 6,050 workers — 3,715 of them are solar employees.

It is unfortunate that the Missouri Public Service Commission isn’t doing all it can to feed the growth. The commission recently rejected a Texas company’s plan for a $2.2 billion, 780-mile transmission line to carry electricity generated by wind farms from Kansas across Missouri to power grids in the East. The project was viewed as a step forward for renewable energy.

The commission’s 3-2 vote was a setback. But it will not be the end of green energy expansion in Missouri and nationwide.

Missouri’s clean energy economy enjoyed a 4.8 percent employment growth, creating 2,000 new jobs, from 2013 to 2014. “Most new positions in the last 12 months have been technician and production workers, concentrated in the installation and manufacturing sector,” the green energy report said. “Firms also remain confident about future growth projections, with 37.6 percent of businesses expecting to add 3,000 new clean energy workers in the next 12 months (a growth of 7.1 percent).”

Diversity also is a factor in filling the new jobs — 25 percent of the people hired in the last 12 months have been women, 39.3 percent were ethnic minorities and 13.6 percent were veterans.

“Missouri’s clean energy and transportation sector is locally focused, with 70.2 percent reporting primarily in-state customers and 44.2 percent supporting in-state vendors,” the report said. Clean energy and transportation are the key source of revenue for about 40 percent of businesses. About 48 percent earn more than half of their revenue from other sources. Sales and installation are the main sector in the state, accounting for 54.2 percent of businesses.

The Kansas City area is home to 22 percent of the businesses; the St. Louis area, 37 percent. In the Kansas City area there are 936 clean energy establishments, employing 8,507 people. The St. Louis area has 1,653 clean energy establishments, employing 14,459 people.

Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, and Josh Campbell, executive director of MEI, say in the report that Kansas City is among metropolitan areas helping building owners and tenants use energy smarter. They note that “the state is at a crossroads.”

“Missouri utilities are diversifying away from their current demand on coal, which currently generates 83 percent of the state’s electricity,” Keefe and Campbell note. “As it diversifies its portfolio, the state’s local 275,000 MW of wind power potential, including many potential wind sites in close proximity to Kansas City, is an attractive, undeveloped resource.”

In addition to the commission’s recent ruling, a downside is solar energy rebates dried up in 2013, meeting the 1 percent cost cap mandated by Missouri’s renewable energy standard, forcing some companies to consider shifting to more secure segments in the energy efficiency industry. But clean energy and transportation industry overall are expected to continue to grow, adding to a more diverse economy in the state.

That should result in better air, land and water quality and more green energy for the future.