When it comes to meeting its growing energy needs Ė for air conditioning, offices, computers and even to recharge electric car batteries Ė Missouri is stuck.
Some states and countries are moving ahead. Missouri, in the competitive global economy, could fall behind.
This state should have a robust debate about how to boost generating capacity. This issue is too important to be left to lobbyists and lawmakers in Jefferson City.
Gov. Jay Nixon and responsible citizen groups, as well as key utilities, must get involved in shaping Missouriís future energy inventory.
Coal, which supplies about 82 percent of the stateís electric power, can cause problems. Itís relatively cheap, but itís not without external costs. Getting it out of the ground harms the environment and can be fatal. Remember those 29 dead miners in West Virginia? The American Lung Association notes that burning coal emits heavy metals like mercury and lead and threatens human health.
According to the Missouri Energy Development Association, which represents investor-owned utilities, electricity demand is expected to rise by 25 percent by 2030. Yet it can take a decade to bring a new power plant on line.
Missouri electricity consumers Ė residential, commercial and industrial Ė pay some of the lowest rates in the country. That gives the Show-Me state a competitive advantage, but not if a business is planning 10 to 20 years out, as some do.
The stateís fleet of generating plants is ageing. As they are retrofitted or replaced, they will have to comply with ever-tightening regulations governing emissions.
We may dream that solar panels and wind turbines will fill the gap, but thatís not realistic. Renewables arenít likely to grow enough from less than 1 percent today to meet increased demand.
When I started looking into the stateís energy needs, a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County seemed attractive. It would generate 1,600 megawatts, which would go a long way toward strengthening the stateís generating base.
Spent fuel may seem dangerous when kept on site, but experts believe its risks can be mitigated.
Nuclear engineers and experts say nuclear-power technology is much improved nowadays. Even Franceís history of generating nearly 90 percent of its electric power through nuclear energy is persuasive.
If lawmakers and AmerenUE could avoid shifting the financial burden to ratepayers until the plant is operating, a second Callaway nuke may be a sound bet.
But lawmakers couldnít agree this year, nor last, on how to finance a plant. Meanwhile, the demand-gap problem hasnít disappeared.
Next door, Illinois has 11 nuclear plants. Missouri has one. Many engineers and scientists argue that nuclear power is not the hazard it once was.
Then came the tsunami that struck Japan and disabled three reactors, with enormous costs to people and the economy.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkelís government is closing its nuclear plants as a precaution.
Nuclear remains high risk and high cost with impressive benefits -- if the project is structured correctly and nothing goes wrong, like an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault.
This is not a good situation for the Show-Me state. The sooner political and business leaders and environmentally conscious residents work through these issues, the sooner Missouri can be competitive.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Repps Hudson is a freelance journalist and adjunct instructor of journalism and international affairs. He spent 40 years in newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editorial writer and editor.