Missouri’s largest wind farm shut off at night to protect bats

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FILE – This May 6, 2013 file photo shows a wind turbine farm owned by PacifiCorp near Glenrock, Wyo. While most states pursue ways to boost renewable energy, Wyoming is doing the opposite with a new program aimed at propping up the dwindling coal industry by suing other states that block exports of Wyoming coal and cause Wyoming coal-fired power plants to shut down. The law signed April 6 by Republican Gov. Mark Gordon creates a $1.2 million fund for an initiative that marks the latest attempt by state leaders to help coal in the state that accounts for the bulk of U.S. coal production, which is down by half since 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Young, File)

ST. LOUIS– For the last few months, Missouri’s largest wind farm has been idle at night to avoid killing endangered bats. The Ameren-owned wind far, the High Prarie Renewable Energy Center, is in northeastern Missouri.

The shutdown comes as Ameren Missouri looks to increase customer rates to cover billions of dollars recently invested in electric grid upgrades and its new wind generation facilities.

Some consumer advocates argue customers shouldn’t have to pay more if Ameren isn’t producing at its full capacity.

State regulators want to boost the electric rate revenues by almost $300 million annually, an increase amounting to 12%. If granted, bills for an average residential electric customer would raise about $12 a month.

A recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says Ameren voluntarily stopped all nighttime operations starting on April 19, 2021.

The Kansas City Star reports Ameren received a permit in May from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to operate in a way that seeks to minimize the number of endangered or threatened bats it kills each year. However, the bats kept returning. In June, the paper reports Ameren again voluntarily stopped running the turbines at night.

The report says a total of four bat carcasses were found, including an Indiana bat that is a federally endangered species. There were also 52 birds found dead on the wind farm, including a bald eagle.

The Missouri Pubilc Service Commission heard testimony on this issue earlier this month. Geoff Marke, chief economist for the Missouri Office of the Public Counsel testified:

“I am concerned that the Company may not meet its Renewable Energy Standard (RES) requirement due to the excessive take of protected species. As such, I do not believe ratepayers should be responsible for any costs related to Ameren’s poor managerial decisions in electing to site its windfarm where it did.”

In the testimony, when Marke mentions Ameren not meeting it’s RES requirement, he is referring to the new state requirement that utilities generate at least 15% of their power from renewabe resources.

The Kansas City Star also reported a statement from Ameren’s chief renewable development office saying the company stands alongside supporters of clean energy and said growing solar and wind power benefits customers. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions, which Ameren has pledged to do by 2050, “will require significant investments in new wind and solar facilities.”

The Missouri Pubilc Service Commission will hold hearings on the potential rate hike in November and December of 2021.

The High Prarie Renewable Energy Center consists of 175 turbines with an approximate 400-megawatt operating capacity.

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