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Rural Missouri Magazine

Rural growth brings challenges

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

I can remember a time when there was talk about turning parts of rural Missouri into a “deer commons” because the population was shrinking. In the 1980s, because of the farm crisis, we were all worried that rural Missouri would dry up and our sons and daughters would leave our communities to look for jobs in the big city. That’s not the case today, with every electric cooperative experiencing growth.

That’s good news for rural Missouri. Not only are more people moving to the countryside, but the economic development efforts begun more than two decades ago with passage of the federal Rural Development Act are paying off.

Co-op managers are telling me their commercial loads also are increasing as new businesses move into rural areas and existing businesses expand. It seems like we hear about a new ethanol or soydiesel plant every other month. That’s even better news, because it will allow our agriculture industry to share in the growth.

If there’s a dark side to this growth, it is the fact that demand for electricity is growing at unprecedented rates and future sources of power will be more expensive. Forecasts from Associated Electric Cooperative predict membership will grow from the 830,000 we have today to 1.2 million by 2025. Not only will there be more members, they will use more energy. Because wholesale electricity prices have not increased for the past 20 years, we have all added conveniences powered by electricity and not worried about how much we use.

I believe as the cost of electricity increases, all members will want to use electricity more efficiently and electric cooperatives will provide the tools to help members meet that goal.

In the meantime, Missouri’s electric co-ops must take steps now to meet this increasing demand. In the works is a multi-pronged approach.

One prong is the Dell Plant, a gas-fired unit located in northeast Arkansas. Associated bought this mothballed plant at a much lower cost than a new gas-fired plant would have cost and expects to bring it on line this month.

Another prong is the three wind energy farms being built in northwest Missouri. Already the Bluegrass Ridge project, featured on our cover, is being tested and should deliver power soon. Your electric cooperatives are proud of being the first to build large-scale wind farms in Missouri with the Wind Capital Group and John Deere Wind Energy. It fits well with Associated’s strategy to have a diverse mix of generation resources.

To give Missourians a new source of power they can depend on, Associated is in the early phase of building a new coal-fired power plant at Norborne in Carroll County. Hearings held at Sedalia, Salisbury and Carrollton brought up some interesting comments from those who attended.

Rick Bagby, who operates a foundry served by Sac Osage Electric Cooperative, said his business requires reliable and affordable electricity or he can’t compete in today’s global marketplace. Jack Woods, a Platte-Clay member, said we should be using coal to generate electricity because it is not subject to international pressures. Frank Burton, a pastor who operates a boarding school at Stockton, said new generating facilities should be built ahead of the need to prevent shortages like those experienced in California.

Obviously, the demand for power requires new generation sources. These new megawatt hours will be more expensive than existing resources.

The good news for all electric cooperative members in Missouri is that, even with the increases in our cost of electricity in the future, our electric bills will still be lower than most other states.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart

Rural Missouri is published by
The Association of Missouri
Electric Cooperatives

 


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