As the legislature continues work during the special session, it needs to keep sight of the big picture. The case that motivated Gov. Eric Greitens to call the session—the loss of two plants in southeast Missouri due to high electricity costs—highlights the importance of cheap, reliable electricity to the economic health of the state. But if Missouri politicians are interested in sustainable growth in its energy sector, they need to go beyond legislating single cases and take a broader look at how the electrical system can become more attractive to employers and consumers alike.

Of course, there is an easy way to reform Missouri’s electrical regulations that will increase the state’s attractiveness to business while advancing the free market principles that the legislature—and voters—support.

As things stand, consumers are restricted to buying power from their utility company, local municipality or electric cooperative. This lack of choice can be burdensome, but it is a particular problem for businesses that have internal sustainability goals regarding energy use. Indeed, many large companies have set goals to receive a set percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Businesses adopt these goals to save on costs, satisfy consumer preferences and to underscore good corporate stewardship. In Missouri, however, many companies may not be able to meet their energy goals, because local utilities simply do not offer sufficient renewable electricity. For a business deciding whether to locate or expand facilities in the state, lack of options makes the choice clear.

During the recently ended regular session, the legislature considered the Missouri Energy Freedom Act, by Rep. Bill Kidd, which would have solved the scarcity problem by allowing companies to purchase renewable electricity from someone other than their official local provider. This legal structure has worked in other parts of the country, and has the potential to attract thousands of jobs to the state both from energy conscious employers and from potential renewable generators. Companies save money on their energy bills, but also shoulder the risk of new clean energy projects. That means one simple rule change can bring Missouri huge new investments, more profitable businesses, jobs in the community and clean energy to fuel the economy – all risk free.

Most important, however, this approach would bring more jobs to the state without increasing the role of government. Allowing PPAs involves no mandates, subsidies or government heavy handedness. It simply provides companies with another option. The proposal also requires utilities to be reimbursed for any costs associated with allowing other power generators access to the grid, essentially leveling playing field.

Seven of Missouri’s largest companies – General Mills, General Motors, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Target, Unilever and Wal-Mart – are on record supporting this approach. Even the Department of Defense is supportive. But, it’s not just the big guys who stand to benefit. As long as you use enough power, you’d be able to lock in long-term, low prices for electricity through this new structure—a benefit small mom and pop firms will appreciate.

By allowing PPAs for renewable energy, Missouri can help keep tens of thousands of jobs in the state by opening up greater access to clean energy and increasing competition and free markets. Adding this element of competition should be part of the final legislative package for the special session.

Image by Gino Santa Maria

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