Community members once again are urging the Columbia City Council to take action on getting the city to use 100% renewable resources for energy production by 2030.
The appeal was made this past week during a city council meeting at which the 2022 Columbia Water and Light Renewable Energy Plan report was accepted following a public hearing.
A petition with nearly 3,000 signatures was delivered in May to the council requesting it ramp up renewable energy efforts. Among speakers Monday was Carolyn Amparan of the CoMO 100% by 2030 Coalition and the Sierra Club, who helped deliver the petitions in May.
“We keep missing the targets,” Amparan said about renewable energy capacity goals by the city. “We shouldn’t just plan to make exactly 15% or 25%.”
More: Groups push for Columbia to ‘set the example’ with earlier 100% renewable energy goal
The city should plan for maintenance and outages, she added.
“We are not making things happen, we are not planning enough and we are not being aggressive about our future,” Amparan said.
The climate emergency needs a more vigorous response from the city, including cutting emissions at least in half and getting renewable energy sources to 100% as quickly as possible, said Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks.
“I’d love to see a sense of urgency among the council,” he said. “Congress obviously isn’t (taking climate issues seriously), the Missouri General Assembly isn’t, the governor isn’t. It’s up to us to insist our business respond to this urgent threat to our future.”
Other speakers urged the city to negotiate more renewable energy contracts and get out from its coal-powered plant contracts.
Renewable energy capacity less than expected in 2021
The city’s renewable energy capacity was 14.63% in 2021, below the 15% goal, prompting disappointment from the Columbia Climate and Environment Commission. Construction and other delays at two of the city’s renewable sources led to the city not reaching the goal.
“(In) 2022, we anticipate we’ll rebound and we will be over 18% with the first full year of production at Truman Solar and the completion of the repowering project at Crystal Lake (wind farm),” said Dave Sorrell, Columbia Utilities director.
The city is still behind pace to reach its goal of 25% renewable energy sources by 2023, the Climate and Environment Commission noted in a letter to the city council from April.
Projections indicated the city would have 40% renewable energy sources by 2030, above the 30% goal. That was revised, however, when the city learned June 28 that an agreement with Boone Stephens Solar was terminated due to project costs.
“(That is) allowed under the purchase power agreement we had,” Sorrell said. “If certain conditions were not met, either party could vacate the agreement.”
The lack of Boone Stephens brings city capacity projections just above the 30% goal by 2030, as is described in the city’s renewable energy standard.
More: Columbia’s emissions factor ‘relatively unchanged’ since 2015, says sustainability manager
The city soon will put out a request for proposal to offset what it is losing from the terminated agreement with Boone Stephens, Sorrell said. Depending on the RFP, it could bring Boone Stephens back into an agreement with the city.
“It is my understanding from the developer, they are still interested with moving forward with the project. I think if we put out an RFP again, they very likely would respond,” Sorrell said, answering a question from Fifth Ward council member Matt Pitzer , but adding the cost to the city likely would be higher.
Sorrell wants to get the RFP out by September.
Before the loss of Boone Stephens, Columbia Water and Light was trying to surpass renewable energy production goals, Sorrell said. The renewable energy plan presented annually is only reflective of goals within the renewable energy ordinance, he added.
“I agree if we change that, we need to know what that is so we can more aggressively move toward our goals,” he said.
Possible solutions to increase capacity
Costs of renewable energy continue to rise. It was roughly $3.6 million in Columbia in 2021, a roughly $1 million increase from 2020. This is due to more communities in the region relying on renewables leading to energy congestion, Sorrell said.
The city’s renewable energy ordinance includes a utility rates cap that limits any increases to 3% of what utility rates are from nonrenewable sources.
With the increased costs for renewable energy, the city is about to hit that 3% rate cap of approximately $3.8 million. This means the city could not increase its renewable energy capacity without a change. Raising the cap, as suggested by First Ward council member Pat Fowler and Pitzer, would require an ordinance amendment.
If the council were to increase the cap, Columbia attorney Tom Jensen wants the city to structure any rate increases in a way that is equitable for low-income customers, he said during the public comment period.
Amparan urged city leaders to work with Sikeston, with which Columbia has a power contract, and get that community to build a solar farm for energy production to replace the coal-powered plant. The Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities is looking at alternate production sources, according to reporting from the Sikeston Standard Democrat.
“They already have the transmission lines and we all know transmission lines are a huge part of this renewable energy transition,” she said. “We need to encourage Sikeston to close the plant sooner and put in a solar farm.
“That would help us with our renewable energy goals, and it would help (Sikeston) maintain their tax base.”
Columbia Mayor Barbara Buffaloe would like to explore the idea of ramping up incentives for local renewable energy production, including at city-owned property.
“What can we do to think about what our opportunities are to help lead by example?” she said. “Our farmers market, we are about to build that out more. It would be really fantastic to make that a model project.”
The city could look into a community incentive program, Sorrell said.
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.