Ameren Missouri is finally yielding to the winds of change. The coal-dependent utility will invest heavily in wind and solar as part of its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Ameren says the switch to renewables, which will involve a hefty upfront investment of $1 billion, will benefit St. Louis-area customers.
The electrical utility plans to install wind turbines in Missouri or neighboring states, adding at least 700 megawatts of wind generation — about 10 percent of Ameren’s power generation — in three years. That’s a small percentage of the power Ameren’s customers need, but it’s a good start. Ameren Missouri’s president and chairman, Michael Moehn, says that’s the minimum threshold and that the company could add more.
The move marks a significant change in attitude from the nation’s second most coal-dependent power company. Whether Ameren formally recognizes coal’s contribution to global warming, the company is at least acknowledging that customers and investors want a more diversified and earth-friendly energy mix.
Since it costs less to generate wind power than other forms of energy, Moehn says, the changes could help reduce customer’s bills. Ameren’s plans also include phasing-in solar generation over the next decade as it backs away from coal. A solar generation facility at St. Louis Lambert International Airport is expected to be completed next year.
Ameren has drawn criticism for being slow to adopt a cost-effective clean energy plan, but the company has produced an ambitious and forward-looking strategy. The utility has only used wind energy bought out-of-state to power about 26,000 homes. Renewable energy advocates in Missouri were pushing for a more robust investment in wind energy.
Apparently, so were investors. The company’s 20-year outlook, a plan it must submit every three years to the Public Service Commission, suggested that investors were pressuring Ameren to pivot away from coal. Corporate customers also favor increased access to renewable energy, with availability influencing their location decisions. Apple recently cited access to wind power in its decision to build a $1.3 billion data center in Iowa.
Ameren had objected to the mandates and timetables for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions outlined in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Now the company is embracing similar goals to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. It is continuing the planned retirement of two coal-fired plants and will phase out two units at its Labadie facility over the next two decades.
President Donald Trump proposes to go in the opposite direction with his bid to revive the coal industry and expand mining access on federal lands. Industry experts say market forces make Trump’s plan unfeasible.
The transition to renewable energy is critical but won’t come without a struggle. Ameren is smart to end its reliance on coal and start the transition toward clean energy.