Green energy advocates hold press conference ahead of EPA visit

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COLUMBIA – Green energy professionals and advocates from Columbia voiced their support for renewable energy sources and against coal in a joint press conference at Missouri Sun Solar in Columbia on Wednesday.

This comes ahead of EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s Thursday visit to the Thomas Hill Energy Center, a coal power plant in Clifton Hill.

Pruitt will be joined by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and has previously said he wants to reduce EPA oversight on the coal industry.

Speakers at the press conference raised concerns over the health impacts of coal energy.

“We are literally talking about life and death,” said Gordon Christensen, a retired physician.  

Christensen said the reduction in regulations on coal power plants would likely lead to an increase in air pollution, which would increase the instances of heart disease, asthma, and hospitalizations. 

Caleb Arthur, the CEO and founder of Sun Solar, said green energy is not just advantageous for the environment, it's good for those who value the market competition.

"Solar provides the foundation of what the Republican Party stands for," Arthur said. "You hear Republicans talk about school of choice, well the same happens with solar. You get solar choice. You get energy choice. You get economic freedom."

Arthur said an investment in solar panels could earn more than $60 thousand in energy bill savings over the warranty life of the panels and the industry is growing.

Shane Swindle, a panel installer for Missouri Sun Solar, had worked in the coal industry for 10 years but was laid off a year ago.

Swindle said, when he approached Missouri Sun Solar, he was hired "right on the spot" and his new job has less regulations than his position in the coal industry.

Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia is moving towards greener energy through the use of solar panels, but challenges remain. 

"Coal is very dependable in the middle of the night with no wind and no sun it can generate," Chris Rohlfing, manager of member services said. 

Rohlfing said the technology to store solar energy needs to be improved before it can fully meet the energy demands of the community.

The city of Columbia phased out its power plant coal use in 2015.

Associated Electric Cooperative runs the Thomas Hill Energy Center and in a statement said:

"Associated Electric Cooperative is pleased to host U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt this week as he discusses his vision and priorities for the environment and energy in America.  As a leading power generation and transmission company, it is important for us to understand Administrator Pruitt’s perspective and to share our experience with him.  Working together, we can make sure responsible and affordable energy remains the cornerstone of our rural electric cooperative system."

Pruitt and Blunt will be at the energy center at 10 a.m.