Congratulations, Independence City Council!
On July 21 the council unanimously passed Resolution 14-758 providing critical direction to our city-owned electric company and setting a stage for our energy future.
As you may be aware, Independence has some challenges. We have high electric rates, we have old power plants that are used very little, we need to engage with renewable energy sources more, we need to promote energy conservation to a greater extent, and we have policies regarding our shutting off power to the poor that are more onerous than those mandated for the for-profit power companies in the state.
Resolution 14-758 takes a huge step to confront several of these issues. The resolution is a mix of the reality that the old coal-burning power plants are going to close due to federal regulations (or we would pay over a $100 million to upgrade them) and some exciting leadership creating an emphasis on conservation and efficiency for city buildings, as well as an effort to help citizens conserve energy and thus lower their electric usage and save money on monthly IPL bills. Pretty good stuff.
Currently 83 percent of Missouri’s electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. Nationally, less than 40 percent of electric power is made through burning coal. This resolution provides the direction to move Independence toward finding better forms of energy production. The resolution lets us take advantage of the dropping price of solar and wind generation.
Will Independence Power and Light ever use 100 percent renewable sources of energy? Not in my lifetime, but buying our base power needs from newer, more efficient coal power plants in Weston and Nebraska City saves money and the environment. The shutting down of the Missouri City coal plant (built in 1952) by early 2016 and shifting the Blue Valley plant back to natural gas are pretty minor adjustments for IPL operations, as these plants currently generate less than 10 percent of the total electricity that we use in Independence; all the rest we buy from somewhere else.
The “2011 Master Plan Study Update” (which is not found on the city website, but you can get to it at IndyEnergy.org) recommends several of the essential items noted in the resolution. Effectively, the City Council is now creating an energy policy based on the 2011 study.
The resolution directs the city to study how to make city-owned buildings more energy efficient and to consider using solar and other renewable energy sources (saving the city money from not having to pay itself for the electricity it uses).
The resolution also directs the city staff to study how to work with residents on energy conservation in homes and businesses. IPL has supported a variety of programs in the past, but now it has council direction to further engage with the issues that could help our seniors and others with weatherization and energy efficiency, helping folks who struggle with their electric bills.
Maybe we will get improved rebates to encourage residents to purchase energy efficient appliances (much as our for-profit neighbors have been doing for a long time), subsidies to residents who use solar panels, or increased rebates for weatherization of our aging housing stock. IPL has had a wonderful program under which it used federal grant money to help fund burying electric lines to help with storm management, and now IPL will take the lead with helping residents conserve energy to lower electric usage and thus lower residential electric bills.
Currently IPL has $23 million in undesignated financial reserves. IPL currently has the funds to capitalize several of these efforts that could show a long-term positive impact for the citizens of Independence, who are also the owners of IPL.
The resolution also directed city staff to conduct a rate study. We already know our rates are driving businesses from Independence and have made our schools pay some of the highest electric rates in the state. Maybe a study can focus on why our rates have become too high, and more importantly, how we get them under control. If the for-profit KCP&L can use more solar and wind to produce energy and have lower rates than Independence, we can fix our broken system.
Our City Council has shown leadership on a tough set of issues, and we should thank council members for their willingness to step up to the challenge.
Jason White lives in Independence. He is a former City Council member and is with IndyEnergy.