COLUMBIA — Columbia is continuing to diversify its renewable energy sources by approving the cheapest wind power purchase the city has made so far, with an estimate initial cost of about $21 per megawatt-hour.
At its meeting Monday, the Columbia City Council unanimously approved the contract with the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission to purchase up to 35 megawatts of wind energy beginning in 2021.
The estimated total cost of the project in the first year is $3 million, according to a staff memo to the council. The price is expected to rise 2 percent every year.
The length of the contract was not included in staff memos, and staff didn't discuss it during its presentation to the council.
Iron Star Wind Project, LLC, will generate the wind power and use the Grain Belt Express Clean Line to transmit the energy from western Kansas, where wind power can be produced at one of the lowest costs in the country, according to the memo.
In 2016, Columbia bought wind energy from Crystal Lake Wind Farm in Iowa for $45.96 per megawatt-hour and from Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm in northwestern Missouri for $68.69 per megawatt-hour, according to the 2017 Renewable Energy Report.
Mayor Brian Treece said, in the past, Columbia voters have approved higher costs for renewable energy in an effort to move away from non-renewable energy.
"It used to be a trade-off," he said. "Columbia voters approved a higher cost in order to obtain renewable energy."
In 2004, Columbia became the first Missouri city to adopt a renewable energy portfolio ordinance. The ordinance requires 15 percent of total electricity consumed from renewable resources by 2018, 25 percent by 2023 and 30 percent by 2029.
According to the renewable energy report, about 6.7 percent of all energy sources for 2016 were renewable, with 3.4 percent from wind, 3.1 percent from landfill gas and 0.13 percent from solar.
The city is on track to meet the 15 percent requirement by next year, Water and Light Director Tad Johnson said at the meeting.
A staff report presented to the Water and Light Advisory Board projected the new wind turbines will produce an average of 50 percent of the peak capacity of 35 megawatts in the starting year.
That means the turbines will produce a total of 153,300 megawatt-hours of energy that year. That will fulfill about 11 percent of the renewable portfolio requirement in 2023.
The purchase approval by the council does not guarantee the wind power to Columbia because the Missouri Public Service Commission has not yet approved construction of the main means of transporting the energy, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
Columbia Water and Light Assistant Director Ryan Williams said the agreement doesn't hinge on the delivery of the power.
"If it's not available, or the Grain Line doesn't get built, then we're not liable for the contract," he said.
At its meeting on May 24, the state commission decided to delay deciding on the Grain Belt Express Clean Line to monitor a pending United States Supreme Court case that could have an effect on the project.
The council has been supportive of the transmission line ever since it was introduced in 2014. The council voted 5-1 to endorse the project two years ago, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Williams said the city is also reviewing other requests for proposals for solar energy this year, though the process hasn't closed yet.
Johnson, who said he expects the authorization to be smooth, said he does not expect to see another wind contract after this one.
The city is also looking into a biomass project to help diversify energy resources in town, he said.
The council also endorsed Treece's joining of the Climate Mayors, a coalition of U.S. mayors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to improve local environments and the economy.
Treece's announcement to join the coalition came a day after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Columbia has become one of more than 211 cities across the country, including St. Louis and Kansas City, in fighting for the cause.
"President Trump, by pulling out of the accord, has energized climate change initiatives," Columbia resident Jack Meinzenbach said.
On Monday night, the council asked the city's sustainability staff members to come back with a resolution with more concrete goals and plans for climate action.