Rural Missouri Magazine

Balancing Act

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

Life is all about making choices. Americans want clean air, but we also need affordable and reliable electricity to power the economy and make our lives more comfortable.

Technology has made it possible to clean up the air. At the same time, Americans are using more and more electricity to power the many electrical devices that are the signature of the new millennium.

Most Americans aren’t aware that air quality has been steadily improving for the last 20 years. Drive by any power plant owned by Missouri’s electric cooperatives today and you will be hard-pressed to determine whether the plant is operating or not.

That’s because millions of dollars invested in pollution-control equipment is paying off, clearing the air while still giving electric cooperative members the benefits of affordable electricity.

Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AECI) is a cooperative formed to generate electricity for Missouri co-op members. As a cooperative, AECI has the option of returning any margins it makes to the membership or reinvesting those margins back into the cooperative.

Over the years the AECI board has made the tough decision to set aside funds in a special account to be used for meeting environmental challenges. In 2004, $62.4 million was transferred to this fund.

From 1994 to 2004 AECI spent $300 million to meet its environmental responsibilities. Because of this investment, 90 percent of the sulfur dioxide and 80 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions from its coal-fired power plants were cut.

Jim Jura, CEO at AECI, says this fund is one factor that allows AECI to enjoy one of the strongest financial positions in the industry, with a AA rating from the investment community.

This financial strength, in turn, has led to low, stable and predictable rates. In fact, wholesale rates charged to electric cooperatives have changed little in the past 20 years.

As AECI prepares to build a new power plant, engineers are working on a design that will make it one of the cleanest power plants in the nation.

Although our ability to keep rates low while cleaning up the air has been remarkable, everyone in the industry expects any future improvements in air quality to be much more difficult to achieve and increasingly expensive.

For example, technology needed to remove small amounts of mercury released by power plants does not exist. In our discussions with legislators about environmental issues, we’ve asked them to do two things:

• Let science, not emotion, determine policy.

• Go slow on new regulations so technology can catch up.

Missouri’s electric cooperatives remain committed to keeping the air clean while also keeping your rates as low as possible. Thanks to today’s clean-coal technology, we no longer have to choose between dirty air and affordable energy.

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

E-mail Barry Hart


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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