Smart grid needed next to support increased consumer demand for renewables
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Ameren Missouri has unveiled an ambitious plan to increase the amount of wind and solar generation, and in the process, cut their carbon emissions by massive amounts.
In the company’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), filed on Monday, Ameren Missouri said they plan to spend $1 billion on wind turbines in the Show-Me State and its neighboring states to add at least 700 megawatts of wind generation by the year 2020.
“This is Ameren Missouri’s largest-ever commitment to clean, renewable energy,” Michael Moehn, president of Ameren Missouri, said. “We are committed to bringing our customers innovative solutions that are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible while maintaining the reliability our customers expect.”
“We expect this tremendous growth in wind generation to provide great value to our customers, who will save money on energy costs,” Moehn continued. “Because of significant advancement in technology, harnessing wind is less expensive than other forms of new generation.”
The company also plans to build more in terms of solar generation over the next 10 years, a multiple-phase project expected to add about 100 megawatts more.
Ameren Missouri also noted that these changes mean the company will address the need to transition to a smart energy grid that can support the renewable energy and customer demand. The company in its release said that in the next two decades, “the energy grid will be the lifeline for cleaner energy connecting hundreds, if not thousands, of small and regional renewable energy generators to the grid in real time while maintaining the energy reliability demanded by customers.”
Earlier this year, Ameren Missouri announced plans to build a solar generation facility at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. That facility is expected to be complete in 2018. A separate project creates partnerships with business customers to locate an Ameren Missouri-owned solar generation facility on their property.
“These innovative solar programs have great promise,” Ajay Arora, vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning at Ameren, said. “Moving generation assets closer to where the energy is needed most is one of the ways we’re making the grid smarter, stronger and more resilient.”
The new plan, when fully realized, would make Ameren Missouri the largest wind and solar producer in the state. But more importantly, the move puts Ameren Missouri in line with others in an effort to utilize renewable energy sources.
When combining those two factors, the projects are a major step in the company’s goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2050. But it’s not the only part.
As one of the nation’s 20 largest power producers, Ameren Missouri ranks as the second most coal-dependent. Under this new plan, the company is targeting a 35 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2030 and a 50 percent reduction by 2040 from the 2005 level. That means that under Ameren Missouri’s filing, 50 percent of its coal fleet will be retired in the next 20 years.
Since 2005, Ameren Missouri has significantly reduced emissions, including a 26 percent reduction in carbon emissions in 2016.
“We are the first investor-owned utility in the state, and among the first in the country, to announce a carbon emissions goal of this magnitude,” Moehn said.
It’s a move that would put the state’s largest energy provider in agreement with one of the state’s key environmental groups, Renew Missouri.
It wasn’t long ago that Renew Missouri released a report analyzing Ameren Missouri’s practices, in which the organization criticized the company for its lack of wind projects, “despite its location in one of the country’s windiest states and regions” and producing less than one percent of its energy from wind.
The move by Ameren signals a change, embracing renewable energy and looking toward the future of energy in Missouri, something Renew Missouri director James Owen says he’s happy to see.
“We’ve been talking to Ameren Missouri for the past 11 years about them needing to move away from coal and nuclear and getting more diversity in their energy portfolio,” Owen said. “And what this shows is that they’re listening. We’re very encouraged by this, but there are still a lot of questions in our mind about what this means, what coal plants they’re shutting down and when they’ll do it by. We’re still waiting for the details. We love that they’re doing all of this wind, we love that they’re doing all of this solar. But there’s still a lot of questions for us.”
Owen says that one reason they’re still cautious about the coal shutdown is the possibility of increased reliance on natural gas. He does say, however, that all of this makes things easier and more feasible in terms of moving toward renewable energy. He says he looks forward to seeing the overall plan, noting that it is a substantial step.
“I think it’s a good step in the right direction, and as with all utility regulation, one step leads to a lot of other steps,” Owen said. “We think this is moving in the right direction, and we think this is really encouraging, but we also want to make sure they continue moving in the right direction.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.