MEI promotes alternative energy sources

An MU science professor heads the group.

With alternative energy legislation progressing quickly on the national level, an MU professor is helping create a group with a statewide reach to influence new energy policy in Missouri.

MU plant sciences professor Gary Stacey is the acting executive director of the group, called the Missouri Energy Initiative. He said the group wants to make Missouri residents and politicians more amenable to the idea of using alternative sources of energy.

"What the organization is really about is culture change," Stacey said. "We want to gain support of key leaders in the state and slowly change the culture of the state so it is more receptive to innovation and technology."

Stacey said the group is in its fundraising stage, trying to raise an initial $200,000 to hire staff and a full-time executive director. To do this, the group is holding informational meetings in major cities across Missouri. Stacey said the next meeting would likely be at the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City sometime in October.

Stacey said the group is not affiliated with MU, but has tried to increase its statewide influence by having board members from several universities, including MU, Washington University in St. Louis and Missouri State University.

St. Louis attorney Ron Walker is the Executive Director of energy policy group RegForm and also chairman of MEI's Board of Directors. Walker said some energy groups conduct studies to promote a certain corporate agenda, but MEI would work with several universities to get objective research to support its policy stances.

"We absolutely need research universities and institutions, because of their flexibility and diversity of research," Walker said. "They aren't trying to pick winners and losers, they're trying to do the research."

Stacey said because MEI is a non-profit organization, they cannot directly lobby state legislators, but said they will encourage the state to invest more in alternative energy. He said the state maintains good fiscal discipline by keeping budget deficits low, but a lack of spending will not draw in companies looking to profit from emerging green industries, such as wind and solar power.

"The state of Missouri is good at being frugal with its money," Stacey said. "The problem with the state of Missouri is its very good with frugality; it just hasn't made very wise investments. So what MEI aims to do is educate the populace of the state as well as the legislators to make wise investments in the energy area."

MEI board member Steve Kidwell, who is also vice president of Regulatory Affairs for utility company Ameren UE, said the group would try to increase its credibility and objectivity by having both environmental advocates and corporate members among its leadership.

"That's exactly the reason we put it together," Kidwell said. "So that folks from the environmental groups and corporations can come together in a neutral place and hopefully generate more light than heat."

Stacey said MEI would try to work with other energy policy groups in the state, such as Walker's RegForm, rather than competing for the limelight or media attention.

"We want to be a positive force for change because energy impacts all of our lives," Stacey said. "There's so much to be done here that there's no point in stepping on each other's toes."

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