Advances in renewable energy technology

Is Missouri ready to sow the seeds of a clean energy economy? According to Renewable Energy for America, a Natural Resources Defense Council project that features reports about states with great potential for renewable energy, it is. The report discusses the byproducts of Missouri’s vast farm economy — agricultural waste — that can be turned into a variety of fuels, as well as the potential for a renewable energy industry in Missouri to create new jobs and provide substantial new sources of income.

Renewable standards

When Missouri voters passed Proposition C in 2008, they approved a Renewable Electricity Standard that requires 15 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2021.

Missouri is among many states with net metering that allows small-scale renewable electricity generators (up to 100-kilowatt capacity under Missouri law) to connect to the grid. Missouri’s net-metering law enables customers who generate their own electricity to receive credit at the retail-price level for electricity generated in excess of their demand. The electric meter measures the surplus energy by running backwards.

Windwindmills against blue sky

Harnessing just a fraction of Missouri’s wind power could result in a major new source of income for many farmers and rural communities. The state’s largest wind farm, Lost Creek, which was opened in 2010 outside of King City, has brought new jobs and lease payments to many area farmers. The farm puts out enough energy to power 50,000 homes and reduce 270,000 tons of CO2 (the environmental equivalent of taking 35,000 automobiles off the road for one year). Several wind farms are currently located in western Missouri. The Loess Hills Wind Farm, completed in 2008, produces enough electricity to make Rock Port the first community in America capable of meeting its entire annual electricity demands from wind power.

The Wind Powering America website provides a helpful summary of wind power activities and resources in Missouri, including a wind working group, wind maps and a Missouri small wind consumer’s guide.

Biomass fuels

Cellulosic ethanol made from crop waste and non-food plants can produce four to ten times as much energy per acre as corn ethanol. According to Smart Choices for Biofuels, a 2009 report released by the Sierra Club and World Watch Institute, cellulosic and other advanced biofuels have a better energy balance than first-generation biofuels. This means that they create much more energy than it takes to produce them. According to a Department of Natural Resources report, Missouri farms already produce enough crop waste from corn, winter wheat, soybeans, sorghum, cotton and timber to manufacture about 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year. That fuel could replace about 15 percent of all the automotive gasoline used in the state.

A cellulosic ethanol plant and demonstration facility in St. Joseph, Mo. opened in 2011. The project was a modification of ICM Inc.’s grain-to-ethanol pilot plant located at Life Line Foods, LLC, in St. Joseph, and produces fuel ethanol from corn fiber, switch grass and energy-sorghum.

Missouri offers a number of incentives that drive biofuels production. The Missouri Renewable Fuel Standard Act, which became effective in 2008, requires that all gasoline sold at public pumps contain 10 per cent ethanol. Missouri offers a 20-cent incentive per gallon for the first 12.5 million gallons of ethanol produced using state crops and 5 cents for every gallon exceeding that level in each fiscal year. This incentive is set to expire in December 2015.

Missouri has a number of other incentives that focus on the use of alternative fuels, the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles and the construction or purchase of alternative-fuel refueling stations or equipment. See the Alternative Fuels Data Center at the EERE website for a list of state and federal incentives and laws. The Missouri Department of Economic Development’s Division of Energy also has numerous resources for small businesses including alternative fuel tax credits and E85 fueling locations.

Biogas

Missouri has just a few biodigesters in operation today, but as one of the top five hog-producing states in the country, it generates large amounts of livestock waste that can be converted into biogas energy. The EPA’s AgSTAR program reports that 200 Missouri hog farms are potentially profitable sites for biodigesters. Together, these operations are capable of producing 2.7 billion cubic feet of methane that could generate 177,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year. At 9.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (the average rate paid in Missouri in 2013), that amounts to more than $17 million of local power each year.

Missouri’s dairy farms, cattle feedlots and poultry farms could also profit from installing biodigesters on site, especially if smaller operations pool their resources and as improved technology reduces biodigester costs.

Solar

The Missouri Renewable Electricity Standard requires that 2 percent of the state’s renewable electricity is generated from solar by 2021. When fully implemented, this will equate to about 190,000 megawatt-hours of annual solar electricity production.

The Missouri Division of Energy can tap into a revolving fund to help finance new solar energy projects. The Energy Center also administers the Missouri Million Solar Roofs program that provides financial incentives to buy-down the purchase and installation of an eligible solar photovoltaic system.

An incentive program in Columbia offers customers of the city’s Water & Light Department a utility rebate toward purchasing and installing a new solar hot water or solar photovoltaic system. KCP&L and Ameren also provide solar rebates up to $50,000 in the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas. Rebates can only go to KCP&L or Ameren account holders.

Solar energy costs have come down considerably in recent years, and the new law is making it even more affordable by providing a subsidy of at least $2 per watt for farm-scale installations — about 20 to 25 percent of today’s cost for a photovoltaic array.

Missouri farmers could take advantage of open skies and install solar arrays to meet their own energy needs. Solar panels on farms could generate energy for water and space heating, grain drying, greenhouse heating and electricity.

Other resources

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) lists federal, state and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in Missouri.

The Missouri Division of Energy keeps a current listing of programs and incentives based on economic sectors from federal, state and local utility incentive programs, as well as renewable energy technology fact sheets.

The 2008 Farm Bill provided a number of incentives for renewable energy but many of these are now in question. The Environmental Law and Policy Center maintains a helpful website called Farm Energy, which outlines current incentives and monitors the development of new ones.