Columbia council approves renewable energy mandate bump

Jan 7, 2014

Credit Sam Lin / KBIA

The Columbia City Council voted Monday night to increase the city’s renewable energy mandate. By 2018, Columbia Water and Light will now need to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources – up from 10 percent as spelled out in the renewable energy mandate passed by Columbia voters in 2004. The future goals were also increased to 25 percent by 2023 and 30 percent by 2029. The previous goal for 2023 was 15 percent and there was no goal set for 2029.

First Ward Councilmember Fred Schmidt was one of the councilmembers that voted to pass the change 5-2.

“The energy future and the environmental future calls for this – for doing something and I believe this is the right step. We don’t know what the future is going to hold, so we shoot for a multiplicity of sources,” Schmidt said.

Water and Light spokesperson Connie Kacprowicz says right now the city gets about 7 percent of its energy from renewable sources. She says Water and Light currently has two different contracts to purchase wind energy, and also uses gas energy form a landfill in Columbia – which captures methane gas from decomposing waste and makes electricity. The city also burns some waste wood and has a small amount of solar in its energy portfolio.

But many of those options cost more money, and there is still a 3 percent cap for how much Water and Light can raise rates to cover the cost of the renewable energy. Kacprowicz says Water and Light only increased rates by 1.8 percent as of calendar year 2012 to purchase renewable energy for the mandate. Updated data from 2013 will be available next month. Schmidt believes this is what Columbia residents want.

“It’s what the people want. They were willing to pay 3 percent to get whatever the initial goal was. We surpassed the initial goal and it only took 1.8 percent. So we have 1.2 percent to go within the 3 percent that people were willing to pay. So it makes sense to increase the mandate, it’s just simple arithmetic,” Schmidt said.

Kacprowicz says the prices for purchasing wind and solar energy have dropped in recent years, and that would likely need to continue.

“Our hope is that as we move forward and have those increasing amounts of renewable energy that cost also continues to go down and we can meet those goals,” Kacprowicz said. “We don’t have a crystal ball so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going to happen over the next few years but we have not hit that limit yet as far as the 3 percent cost gap. But as we add more we could come a lot closer to meeting that and we certainly wouldn’t want to exceed that."

Schmidt says voters would need to approve an increase on the cap, and notes that 78% voted to pass the original mandate in 2004.

“They passed that overwhelmingly and I think if the same ballot initiative were held today they’d pay more to do more,” Schmidt said.  “My thought was that this is where government should lead. You know the people are all getting their electricity form the utilities. So they can install solar panels but barring that all they can do is vote at the ballot box that this is what we want to do together. In other words, we need to make a collective decision, how are we going to generate our electricity?” Schmidt said.

Water and Light will release a report of its renewable energy usage in February and it will be discussed at a public hearing at a council meeting in March.