New energy initiative moves to city council

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Water and Light Advisory Board met Tuesday morning with a representative from Clean Line Energy Partners to hear a pitch for a new form of renewable energy.

The proposal called the Grain Belt Express Clean Line would provide Missouri with low cost wind energy and create jobs in the Mid-Missouri area. The wind energy is produced in western Kansas, and according to the Clean Line Energy Partners it is one of the cheapest forms of wind energy in the United States.

"There will be a whole host of jobs that a project like this would create," Director of Development Mark Lawlor said. "A lot of them involve folks that do engineering and civil work so you'll have folks that do design for the line itself, for roads. You're going to have to do geotechnical survey work and environmental survey work, a lot of firms like that based here in Missouri. So while we don't have a particular company lined up yet we're talking to lots of them that can provide these services."

While the possibility of job creation seemed alluring to most Water and Light board members, one member opposed passing the proposal on to the city council.

"Basically we only heard one side of the story today," member Tom O'Connor said. "Although I'm a big fan of wind and renewable energy, I also focus on local energy. Solving energy needs through huge wires and transmission lines running through Missouri is like solving alcoholism by opening more liquor stores."

City of Columbia voters passed a Renewable Energy Standard in 2004 that mandates the purchase of low cost renewable energy sources. The standard calls for 15% renewable energy by 2017, 25% by 2022 and 30% by 2028. As of 2013, only 6.97% of Columbia's Water and Light portfolio was considered a renewable energy source.

MU Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Professor Clark Gantzer said most environmental groups are cautiously supporting the idea of the Grain Belt Line because the development of renewable energy is important.

"It's a mixed blessing because there may be some consequences to the development but currently it appears as though there will be less environmental effects," Gantzer said.

O'Connor said despite Columbia's efforts to become more energy efficient, this project might not bring the rewards residents want.

"It won't effect Columbia Water and Light either way," O'Connor said. "It's a scheme to get a power line through Missouri. You know that's not taking it to the hoop to solve the problem, it's a way to play financial games."

Lawlor said he expects the proposal to pass due to the progressive nature of the city of Columbia.

"We expect the construction to get started as early as 2016 and allow it to be on line and operational by 2018," Lawlor said.

The proposal will be reviewed by the city council in the future.