This story was updated on August 20, 2015 with corrections to details of the Clean Power Plan and Integrated Resource Plan.
Coal has continued to fuel arguments over health hazards, hidden costs, and energy efficiency since “St. Louis on the Air” tackled Missouri’s problematic coal dependence in a July show featuring an ex-miner from Appalachia.
The use of coal for energy is very much a local issue: 80 percent of Missouri’s electricity is generated from burning coal, local plants have wrangled with communities over storing coal ash, and Ameren Missouri, Peabody Energy, and Arch Coal are headquartered in metropolitan St. Louis.
Those companies are now subject to the rigorous standards of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which mandates significant reductions in coal emissions over the next 15 years. Ameren officials say they were already on target to achieve many of the EPA’s aims, but the mandates have still disrupted what they call a “carefully calibrated plan.”
“We’re very proud of the position we took,” said Michael Moehn, Ameren Missouri president and CEO.
Moehn was referring to Ameren’s Integrated Resource Plan for the state, which plots the company’s transition to cleaner energy over a 20-year period. It was released before the EPA introduced the Clean Power Program.
The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) documents hefty goals for the company: Ameren is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2034, which requires retiring a third of its coal fleet; investing about a billion dollars in wind power; expanding use of solar energy with a new facility; and creating an efficient natural gas ‘combined cycle’ facility.
The Clean Power Program, however, targets a 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, leaving Ameren in a little bit of a bind.
“We’re taking a careful look at the new rule,” said Ajay Arora, vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning at Ameren Corporation. “We did have a carefully crafted and calibrated plan to diversify our fleet in a reliable and affordable manner, and now we’ll have to read this new rule carefully—it’s 1500 pages—and figure out what’s best for our customers and for the state of Missouri.”
[Note: Ameren called to specify that Arora was referring to diversifying its overall generation fleet, not simply its coal fleet.]
Moehn said that Ameren was looking towards energy diversification anyway, as indicated by the IRP goals. Many of Ameren’s coal fleets are beginning to age out of future use. The company has already reduced emissions by switching to lower-sulfur coal decades ago and, more recently, looking into alternative sources: the 20 percent of Missouri energy not generated by coal is in fact the result of nuclear power.
Moehn said that customers should expect "incremental" increases in rates with the Clean Power Plan. The aggregate cost of the IRP, he noted, was $4 billion less than the cost of the EPA's initial plan; now, rate changes will largely depend on the way the state of Missouri enacts the new mandates.
On the whole, Arora and Moehn said, keeping energy “reliable and affordable” is first priority.
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.