Missouri’s largest utility has announced a major expansion of its renewable power generation to serve customers.

The investor owned company Monday said its dramatically increasing the amount of wind and solar generation to provide cost-effective and sustainable energy.

It plans to add 700 megawatts of wind generation by 2020 at a cost of roughly $1 billion. The utility claims even more wind generation is possible in the next few years because of improving technology and economics.

Ajay Arora, Ameren’s vice president for environmental services and generation resource planning, says higher towers and longer blades have made it possible for wind turbines to be situated in more locations.  “With the new technology, we are able to access locations that had lower wind speeds that weren’t quite as affordable as they are now,” said Arora.

Ameren also says it’s adding 100 megawatts of solar generation over the next 10 years which is expected to be developed in multiple phases.

Arora says solar panels could be installed at major facilities such as a stadium, or in fields similar to wind farms.  “We’ll plan for the most reliable and affordable combination of distributors and customer premises (for) solar, as well as the larger utility scale (for) solar that may be further out, similar to a wind farm.”

Earlier this year, Ameren announced plans to build a solar generation facility at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. That facility is expected to be complete in 2018.

The utility also says it’s establishing a goal of reducing its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 from the 2005 level.  According to Arora, this will require all coal fired power plants to be retired between now and then.  “So essentially half of our coal fired generation will be retired in the next 20 years, and all it by 2050.”

The Sioux Plant near West Alton is targeted to be retired by Ameren Missouri in 2034

Ameren has announced its intention to shudder two coal fired facilities – the Meramec Power Station near St. Louis in 2022, and the Sioux Power Plant near West Alton in 2034.   Phasing out coal will require the use of other sources, such as future battery storage technology, to offset periods when renewables aren’t producing adequate power.

Ameren Missouri President Michael Moehn claims the reduction in carbon emissions is a trend setting move in the industry.  “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.

The Sierra Club, a prominent environmental group, gives Ameren’s announcement qualified approval.  Andy Knott with the Sierra Club’s Missouri Chapter says it’s a positive shift toward renewable energy, but calls the rate of adoption and carbon reduction goals sluggish compared to other utilities.

“By 2020, Ameren would still be at only eight percent clean energy, while other utilities like Kansas City Power & Light are already more than double that,” said Knott.  “And next year, city utilities in Springfield, Missouri will be at more than triple what Ameren in proposing.”

Ameren claims it’s bumping up its renewable power generation from five to fifteen percent.  Knott notes Ameren is calculating percentages based on megawatt hours actually used, versus the Sierra Club’s assessment based on total capacity of power generation.

He says the utility’s goal simply meets the Missouri Clean Energy Act, also known as Proposition C, which was passed by voters in 2008.  “They probably are at 5% now because that’s what the state renewable energy standard is.  And they’ll have to get to 15% by 2021, because that’s where the state renewable energy standard is.”

Knott thinks Ameren’s own research likely indicates wind is now the cheapest form of energy production.  “They’ve obviously run the models.  And they even say this in their press release, that clean energy is the cheapest moving ahead.”

With 1.2 million electric customers, Ameren is well over twice the size of the state’s second largest investor owned power supplier, Kansas City Power & Light, which has roughly 590,000.  Empire District in the state’s southwest corridor serves 168,000 customers.

Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), which is the non-profit cooperatives in Missouri, generate power for 875,000 customers.