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Opinion: Unlocking the economic potential of solar energy

   

Last week, a report came out stating the United States will add 100 gigawatts of solar power to the grid over the next ten years with a hearty portion of this new horsepower coming from the Midwest. For a little perspective, one gigawatt of power is enough electricity to supply a medium-sized city. In other words, the Midwest will play a large role in producing enough solar energy to run 100 Independence’s or Overland Park’s. 

Solar is increasingly becoming cheaper than coal and nuclear power. This is the primary reason Kansas City’s City Council voted to push their entire municipal operations to 100% clean energy by next year. This isn’t altruism; this is smart policy with taxpayers’ dollars in mind. 

Additionally, there is a concern about the expenses that go into producing non-renewable power. Even as the federal government loosens regulations, operation and maintenance of dirty power plants totals in the tens of millions of dollars a year. Hauling coal from Wyoming by train isn’t cheap, either. That’s why utilities such as Evergy (the new consolidation of KCP&L and Westar) are focused on moving into solar production after they’ve already built up significant production for wind. It’s cheaper and, over time, will lead to lower rates for consumers. 

This is important in light of a court ruling this month on the eastern side of the state the Ameren must spend tens of millions of more ratepayer dollars on installing expensive equipment onto their coal plants. There’s no reason to do that when there are cheaper ways to make power. 

Further, large corporations are clamoring for clean energy. Businesses such as Wal-Mart and Unilever have made access to renewable energy one of the driving forces in where facilities are located. If one state doesn’t have such access, these companies will move their jobs and money to a state that does.    

Missouri can make proactive regulatory changes to accelerate the growth of solar. For instance, there is a rule change in front of the Public Service Commission – the governmental board charged with regulating privately-owned utilities– to increase solar production in this state. A similar rule was passed in North Carolina that allowed private investment of more than $7.75 billion in solar infrastructure that employed over 6,500 people. 

Compare this to Missouri’s current investment of about $548.97 million and 2,819 employees under current rules involving the production of solar. Sounds like a no-brainer. 

Solar is coming and bringing lower costs and economic development along with it. The Midwest is poised to take on the challenges of future energy needs. Missouri is well positioned to benefit greatly from this transition, but it is up to regulators, lawmakers and utilities to act in order to maximize the benefits to the state.