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Utility must be prepared to survive possible failure of grid

Utility must be prepared to survive possible failure of grid

Municipal electric utilities are unusual enterprises. They were generally set up at times when there was no ability to gain electrical service. In the true municipal context, communities cooperated to build the necessary capacity to generate electricity and provide it to their residents. The co-ops provided a similar community purpose in rural areas.

Columbians long have supported the spirit of community utilities. The control rests with council. The rates are local and not controlled by some investor-owned utility. The decisions are also local and, as a result, they frequently stray from the stated goal and mission. Decision-makers can be distracted by all forms of social and political debate.

But a municipal utility must stay steadfast to its mission, and, in my opinion, the mission is a pretty simple one.

When the grid goes down, Columbia Water & Light must be able to provide for the basic elemental services necessary for its customers, and ideally those of the Boone Electric Cooperative, to have basic electrical reliability — heat, light and refrigeration. In order to do so, we must have the generating capacity here, not 100 miles from here, not 200 miles from here, but here.

However, we have become a sloppy national hodgepodge of electric connection.

Brownouts and “shopped” electricity make more and more communities vulnerable to service failure. We are quick to forget about the failed electrical grid in California and the over-shopped electrical generation. We forget about the great cascade that affected millions in our country when a line failed in Ohio and caused much of the grid to collapse. We forget about the incident in Canada when one generating facility caused most of the East Coast to be without power. Lack of generation capacity has resulted in brownouts in many areas of the country where the public is only partially served.

A municipal utility must be able to remain independent from the remainder of the grid. When the grid collapses or the grid goes down, will the municipal utility be there to provide you with basic electrical service? More specifically, can it provide survival essentials — heat, light and refrigeration?

Wind power from north Missouri won’t do it. It is carried on the grid. Photovoltiacs on top of City Hall won’t do it. It’s insufficient. A hodgepodge of cutesy technologies will not make certain that we remain independent — base load power will.

Columbia does not have the base load power available to meet the mission of heat, light and refrigeration for our residents without the grid. This places us at risk when no risk need be there.

Reasonable technology exists to build conventional coal-fired base load power that is protective of our environment. Those who will tell you otherwise are simply not speaking the truth. Mind you, I’m not asking for construction of power capacity for sale to others, but merely the capacity to meet the mission of heat, light, and refrigeration for Columbia and its immediate neighbors.

Each month that goes by, our need for additional base load power becomes more acute. Each month that goes by, the cost of acquiring that power increases. It is time to quit debating trivia and meet the mission of an independent electric utility that can help us all survive a failure of the grid.

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