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Ameren advances clean energy goals, but grid congestion remains a barrier

St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. has set a net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050 across all its operations in Missouri and Illinois.

The company also announced an expansion of solar and wind generation across its service territories.

The goals are part of the utility’s triennial Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

Milestones include reducing carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and 85% by 2040, based on 2005 levels. The new goals accelerate and expand on the company's 2017 goals. The utility said its revised  are consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The plan includes advancing the retirement of two of its coal-fired power plants. The 50-year-old, 972 megawatt (MW) Sioux Energy Center is now planned to retire in 2028. The 44-year-old 1,178 MW Rush Island Energy Center's retirement is planned for 2039.

More than 75% of the company's current coal-fired energy generating capacity is expected to retire by 2040, and all coal-fired energy centers are scheduled to retire by 2042. Planned retirements begin in 2022 with the 812 MW Meramec Energy Center, which entered service in 1953.

Roughly half of Ameren Missouri’s existing 10.3-gigawatt generation fleet is coal-fired. Natural gas-fired generation represents around 25%  and nuclear power is around 10%.

Ameren Missouri said it expects to seek an extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the operating license for the 1,194 MW Callaway Energy Center beyond 2044. The single unit, 1,190 MW station uses a Westinghouse four-loop pressurized water reactor and a General Electric turbine-generator.

Ameren Missouri's IRP includes investment of nearly $8 billion in renewable energy over the next two decades. By 2030, the company would add 3,100 MW of renewable generation reflecting a combined investment of approximately $4.5 billion. Renewable energy would increase to a total of 5,400 MW by 2040.

The utility said that investments are already underway, with the planned acquisition of two wind energy facilities in the next few months for around $1.2 billion.

The IRP is filed with and reviewed by the Missouri Public Service Commission. Major aspects of the plan, including construction of new renewable energy generation resources, customer energy efficiency programs, and renewable and demand response programs, will require separate regulatory approval. Ameren Missouri also will also need to obtain federal and local approvals and interconnection agreements so that it can use transmission services to connect renewable energy resources with customers.

The utility’s goals face challenges due to grid congestion that has caused developers in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) region to cancel more than 240 wind and solar projects between 2016 and this past July. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC’s) Sustainable FERC Project released an analysis showing high numbers of renewable projects withdrawn in same areas where MISO has indicated that congestion is extreme, and where expensive upgrades are needed.

To ease congestion, MISO recently announced a new transmission planning approach that will look at a mix of local and regional generation resources for states. The approach will likely mean a combination of longer interstate transmission lines and shorter in-state lines. 

In mid-September, MISO and the Southwest Power Pool announced a year-long transmission study to address generation interconnection challenges, looking to "identify comprehensive, cost effective and efficient upgrades" along the areas where the regional grids connect.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said in an Ameren-supplied quote that the utility's new net-zero carbon goal represents “huge progress” from where the company was three years ago. NRDC’s Ashok Gupta was quoted as saying that Ameren Missouri’s new IRP is “a meaningful step in the Midwest in addressing climate change.”

"Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time,” said Gwen Mizell, Ameren vice president of sustainability and electrification. "Our plan is a progressive move toward building a sustainable energy future.”

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