A recent report on utilities should raise red flags about Missouri’s ability to compete with other states.
Economic development officials traditionally promote Missouri as a place with lower utility costs, compared to coastal areas. An organization called Move.org throws some cold water on that notion with a report that ranks Missouri as 15th-highest in the nation for the cost of utilities, mainly natural gas and electricity. Move.org (not to be confused with the liberal interest group during the George W. Bush presidency) is an organization that provides information for people relocating to other parts of the country.
Area utilities called the findings misleading and pointed to other factors, like weather and usage, that determine a customer’s final bill. For instance, Missouri’s average retail rate for electricity is nearly half of what a customer pays in Vermont. A muggy Midwestern summer means higher bills in Missouri because of all that air conditioning usage, compared to a state with cooler summers.
In addition, Move.org lists the same average costs for water, cable television and internet service in every state, meaning that the only real comparison comes with natural gas and electricity. But these still count for a large portion of both household and business energy bills, so the study shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
The Move.org report is hard to separate from findings released Thursday that illustrate a seismic shift occurring in the electric industry. Last April marked the first time that more U.S. electric generation came from renewable sources than from coal, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration. This includes wind, solar and hydroelectric power generation.
In these parts, the transition to renewables is described in terms of environmental benefits versus the rights of property owners who recoil at transmission lines or wind turbines on or near their land. Certainly that’s part of it. In Buchanan County, landowners raised strong reservations to a court ruling last month that removes legal hurdles to high-voltage lines designed to move wind power from western Kansas to population centers in the eastern United States.
Their objections are understandable, but in a broader sense a more valid concern may center on whether projects like this have a material impact on nearby energy costs and reliability.
These investor-owned utilities and private companies spend a lot of time getting rate cases passed and turbines or power lines built. Those companies should be equally focused on making sure that ratepayers are able to reap benefits, both in terms of reliability and costs, from the changes in the industry.