Op-Ed: Without action, Missouri likely to lose out on next-generation energy jobs

Source: By Tom Kiernan, St, Louis-Post Dispatch • Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2017

From coast to coast, states are aggressively pursuing next-generation energy jobs that pay great wages, as well as creating affordable clean electricity.

Wind energy jobs alone grew nine times faster than the overall economy last year. Unfortunately for Missourians, the state’s current policies put a large “closed for business” sign on the state’s participation in this prosperity.

States that have fostered a good economic environment for wind energy are truly diverse. Red states like Texas and Kansas, as well as blue states like Illinois and California, are leaders in embracing wind energy. As a result they’re reaping the economic benefits and jobs that come with well thought-out energy policies.

On the other end of this economic spectrum — for now — is Missouri.

The state Public Service Commission’s recent decision that it had no choice but to reject the Grain Belt Express transmission line could cause Missouri to miss out on much-needed infrastructure investment. Already approved by Kansas, Illinois and Indiana, the project would deliver to Missourians bargain-priced wind energy, saving municipal electric ratepayers more than $10 million annually.

This gateway for wind power would create 1,500 Missouri jobs, pay millions annually to local governments in new taxes, and put $32 million into the pockets of farmers and families hosting the project.

After extensive study for the past year, the PSC found the Grain Belt Express was in Missouri consumer’s public interest. The commission cited cost savings for families and businesses and a diverse energy mix as important positives.

However, a new judicial interpretation recently upended years of PSC jurisdiction, giving local politicians the power to essentially veto critical infrastructure projects that would benefit the entire state. The PSC commissioners made it clear that they firmly believe the court was in error, and that they wanted to approve the project. But the commission’s hands may very well be tied.

The PSC, Gov. Eric Greitens and other Missouri policymakers need to reverse this error, or Missouri’s economy will turn its back on more 21st-century jobs and $2.3 billion of private investment — which didn’t include a single penny of taxpayer money. What project will Missouri miss out on next?

Some of the state’s largest employers had previously urged approval of the Grain Belt Express: General Motors, Target, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Nestle have been on record in support since last year. Together, they employ over 10,000 Missourians. In a 2016 letter they explained why this infrastructure project was important to their business:

“Grain Belt Express Clean Line is an opportunity to provide our companies with a link to low-cost renewable energy at a scale that is meaningful. Access to renewable energy is increasingly important to our decisions about where to expand and to site new facilities.”

The policy fix here is quite simple. The power to approve transmission lines, pipelines and other energy projects needs to be returned to the utility regulation experts at the PSC, where it has been for the last 100 years. Concerned Missourians should contact the PSC at pscinfo@psc.mo.gov and ask them to make restoration of their authority a priority with the Legislature.

Across the country, wind now supports over 100,000 jobs in all 50 states, many at more than 500 U.S. factories that build wind-related parts. There are now over 52,000 utility-scale wind turbines in 41 states, producing enough electricity for 25 million American homes. But Missouri is shutting itself off from this growing American success story.

Missouri leaders almost universally argue jobs and the economy must be the state’s number one priority. Without their leadership, those jobs are about to be exported to states with far better economic climates for energy investment. The time to act is now.

Tom Kiernan is chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association.