Columbia plans to purchase wind energy from Iowa

20-year contract would provide 6 percent of city's energy
Friday, June 17, 2011 | 4:13 p.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 24, 2011

COLUMBIA — The city has plans for a 20-year contract to purchase wind energy from Iowa that would account for about 6 percent of its total electricity.

Ryan Williams, assistant director of Columbia Water and Light, said city representatives hope to finalize the details of the contract Tuesday in a meeting with NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of Florida Power & Light Company, which owns the wind farm.

The purchase would give Columbia the rights to the output from 14 wind turbines in Winnebago County, Iowa, at a fixed price for an estimated 78,291 megawatt hours per year. The city's total electric system in 2010 was 1,185,352 megawatt hours.

Williams estimated the city would pay $42 per megawatt hour, though that price is not finalized. There could be additional costs to transmit the energy between northern Iowa and Columbia, he said. Those costs would determine whether Columbia pays above or below market value for the wind energy.

The city's average non-renewable energy cost per megawatt hour was $47 in 2010, according to Columbia Water and Light's 2011 Renewable Energy Report.

Because electric prices vary by location and because there is some congestion in the transmission lines at the Iowa wind farm, there are periods of time during which Columbia would have to pay additional costs to operate the wind turbines. Williams said the city is exploring ways to avoid that. He also said transmission improvements scheduled in the next few years should remove those additional costs.

The cost of the wind energy is comparable to what the city would pay if it sought new coal resources, even considering those additional costs, Williams said. The fixed price over 20 years also makes it an enticing offer, he said.

Water and Light Advisory Board member Tom O'Connor said federal incentives have made wind energy more affordable.

"It's definitely exciting," O'Connor said of the contract. "Not just for us but for renewable energy, to see that the market has moved, that if you go for the cheapest option, you can go for wind."

The city solicited proposals for wind energy after noticing the favorable market conditions for the renewable resource. A 2004 voter-passed ordinance mandates that the city pursue renewable resources and expand its renewable energy portfolio by 5 percent every five years.

The city already gets wind energy from Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm in northwest Missouri at $65.95 per megawatt hour. That wind energy accounts for 1.5 percent of the city's electricity.

Renewables account for slightly more than 5 percent of Columbia's total energy production this year, Williams said. He said he hopes the wind energy purchase could raise the city to near 10 percent before 2013, the next benchmark in the ordinance.

MU has expressed interest in up to half of the wind energy in the contract, but negotiations have yet to begin, Williams said.

The Water and Light memo states that the contract was scheduled for presentation at Monday's City Council meeting, but Williams said the purchase will not be complete by then.

"There are issues we still have yet to resolve," he said. "I think we were supposed to be further along with our discussions."

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Paul Allaire June 18, 2011 | 4:18 p.m.

Wow. Just look at this. Just wow. Even in Columbia we still can get it right every once in a while. Wow. Did I say "wow" yet?

(Report Comment)
David Sautner June 19, 2011 | 1:58 a.m.

I petitioned for that ordinance and also tabled for it on Earth Day back in 2003. I'm happy to see that the city is moving forward with more plans for renewable energy.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 19, 2011 | 6:57 a.m.

I wonder what's happening with the FreePower (is that the name?) proposal to build a 5 MW solar installation and sell power to the city?


(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle June 19, 2011 | 10:04 a.m.

I've got a cousin doing construction on the massive solar PVC installation in Arizona; my brother has started doing PVC system installations in Virginia, too. It looks like Columbia's public utility service (which I have always been very impressed with, sans the Kahler debacle) is going to have lots of options for meeting it's renewable goals. This is all great news!

Who knew the chant "Drill baby drill" meant that wind power would already be poking holes in the cost-per-megawatt dominance of the coal power industry? Suck it, you alternative energy supply haters.

(Report Comment)
Laura Logan June 19, 2011 | 12:36 p.m.

This is great news, but I would really like to see if there was a Missouri alt resource that was close in price. We need to support our state, jobs in our state and tax revenues for our state.

Oh, btw Derrick, we need to drill too. Wind doesn't fuel trucks and cars. We are competing with China for oil reserves in our own country (in Texas). Renewable energy can't bridge our gaps and the price structure of our economy will continue to inflate if we don't lower transportation costs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 20, 2011 | 1:10 p.m.

It sounds like Laura should lower her transportation costs.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 20, 2011 | 1:11 p.m.

And yeah, those plug in hybrid things... They're science fiction.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 2, 2011 | 8:13 p.m.

HalfMoon LLC Seminars will host a one-day seminar on Friday, August 26th at Sheraton Plaza Hotel, St. Louis on the subject SMALL WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS. Topics covered will be:

Technology of small wind energy systems.

Prerequisites to installing small wind turbines.

Steps to installing systems.

Aesthetics, environmental and land use considerations.

Actual case studies.

The seminar is aimed at engineers, but I doubt it will be all that technical.The instructor is Michael Bergey, who has a number of years experience with small wind turbines.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 3, 2011 | 6:50 a.m.

The best idea would be to shelf Wind power for everyday Americans and instruct them on how to use 1/4 of that money they would spend on weatherproofing their homes. They would recoup that money in less then 2 years instead of the normal 17-22 years for a wind generator.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 3, 2011 | 9:44 a.m.

@ Corey Parks:

We probably don't want to shelve wind power, but energy conservation is always a good thing.

We conserved lots of electrical energy during the 1930s and 1940s by not having home air conditioning. :) However, I don't know many people who lived through those years who want to do without home air conditioning today.

(Report Comment)

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