City Council agrees to buy share of the Columbia Energy Center

Renewable energy source to serve as back-up power during emergency situations
Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:13 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

*CORRECTION: Columbia purchased one turbine from Columbia Energy Center. An earlier version of this article misstated the number of turbines purchased.

COLUMBIA — In an effort to gain more renewable energy sources, Columbia bought a 25 percent share of the Columbia Energy Center for $17.99 million.

City Council unanimously agreed Monday to purchase one* of the four gas turbines at the energy center from Ameren Energy Generating. The turbine produces 36 megawatts of energy, City Manager Bill Watkins said, which is roughly 15 percent of the city's total power supply need at peak.

Columbia Water and Light currently pays for 50 percent of the capacity costs at the energy center.

Watkins gave three arguments in favor of buying the share:

  • The deal would allow the city to buy power and pay only energy costs—not capacity costs.

“We think that that makes a whole lot of sense,” Watkins said.

  • It would further the city’s goals in buying wind power and other renewable energy sources.

“Wind, as we've talked about, doesn't blow 12 months a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and when the wind quits blowing, you've got to have something you can turn on quickly to make up that demand. And we can do that with these engines,” he said. Columbia has received wind power since 2007 through Bluegrass Wind Ridge Farm near King City.

  • It would provide a quick source of back-up power during emergency situations, which is necessary because of issues with the electricity grid.

“I think it’s essential that, in our power supply planning, we have local capacity to keep essential services on here locally," he said.  And we can isolate those engines from the rest of the grid and run them for our own needs."

Before the final contract is executed, the deal will be subjected to various federal regulations, so it will be several months before the city can reap any benefits from the deal.

The $17.99 million, which Watkins called a “very attractive price,” will be paid in cash with retained funds from the Water and Light budget. The council considered buying two engines from another company, Wärtsilä. Ameren's deal is less than half the estimated cost of the Wärtsilä engines, Water and Light Director Michael Schmitz said in a report to council.

Water and Light also has the option to buy another 25 percent share in 2013.

The council also mentioned it is interested in getting more wind power to continue moving toward renewable energy.

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