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Sierra Club Says Ameren Missouri’s 2050 Climate Goal Is Just ‘Too Slow’

High Prairie Wind Photo 3.jpg
Ameren Missouri
Ameren Missouri’s operations include a 400-megawatt High Prairie Renewable Energy Center in northern Missouri. It’s the state’s largest wind facility.

This past September, Ameren Missouri unveiled a long-range plan that includes a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions across all its operations by the year 2050.

Shrewsbury resident Andy Knott says that’s not fast enough.

“The climate science really demands that we phase out coal by [2030] as well as gas by 2035 to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Knott, the deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, told St. Louis on the Air on Tuesday.

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Sierra Club
Andy Knott is the deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

In January, the Sierra Club released “The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges,” a report grading 50 utility companies across the U.S. on their transition from coal to clean energy. Ameren Missouri received a D.

“It graded them on three criteria: first, whether utilities like Ameren are closing coal plants by 2030 as the climate science demands,” Knott explained, “secondly, whether the utilities are planning to build new fracked gas plants, and thankfully Ameren has no current plans to build new gas, which is very good because methane is a potent greenhouse gas; and third, future planned investments in a clean-energy portfolio, which includes renewables and energy efficiency.”

Ameren Missouri’s low grade in the report is primarily because of its plans to burn “a significant amount of coal well beyond 2030.”

“They’re on the right track — they’re just doing it too slow,” Knott said. “Other utilities around the country are making this transition very quickly. Three utilities in this report got a grade of A. One of those is in Indiana, which is a coal state. And it is phasing out all of its coal by 2028, replacing that with clean energy and not building any new gas.”

The talk show team reached out to Ameren Missouri seeking comment in response to the Sierra Club report and received a statement from the company.

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Sierra Club
Solar energy like the kind IKEA sports on the roof of its St. Louis store is one form of clean energy the Sierra Club says electrical utilities need to transition faster than they are.

“At Ameren Missouri, we're committed to getting the energy we provide as clean as we can, as fast as we can, while maintaining the reliability our customers depend on,” said Ajay Arora, the chief renewable development officer at Ameren Missouri. “With a transformative expansion of wind and solar energy, Ameren Missouri has a responsible plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Ameren Missouri's plan has broad support among environmentalists including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy, as well as community leaders such as the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and United Way of Greater St. Louis. Ameren is committed to clean energy. We invite our customers to learn more at amerenmissouri.com/clean.”

On air, Knott responded to the statement by emphasizing speed of the transition as the main problem in his view.

“[Ameren has] proposed a significant amount of clean energy over the next 10 years in their most recent plan,” he said. “A big problem with that is that most of that investment would take place in the latter part of this decade, and again, we need to be replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by 2030.”

Why The Sierra Club Awarded Ameren Missouri A Grade Of 'D' In Recent Report
Listen as host Sarah Fenske talks with Shrewsbury, Missouri, resident and Beyond Coal Campaign deputy regional director Andy Knott about the Sierra Club's report, “The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges."

He added that “in terms of their rhetoric,” Ameren has turned a corner.

“The utilities are realizing that customers want clean energy, also investors are wanting clean energy — Wall Street is putting their money into the clean energy revolution because they’re concerned about the risk of the climate crisis and also clean energy makes economic sense. So that’s part of what’s driving this.”

But Knott said the Sierra Club’s “big concerns” with Ameren have to do with “not retiring their coal plants fast enough.”

“Under their new plan, they would only retire their Meramec and Sioux plants before 2030,” Knott said. “They would keep the Labadie coal plant, which is the second-largest emitter of dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution in the nation, and its Rush Island coal plant, which is the sixth-largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the country, they’d keep those two plants operating into the late [’30s] and early 2040s, long after the climate science dictates.”

In addition to Ameren Missouri, three other utility companies in Missouri were included in the Sierra Club’s report. Kansas City-focused Evergy received an F, as did Associated Electric Cooperative Incorporated, which operates rural electric co-ops in the state. Joplin-based Empire Electric received a C.

As monumental as the challenges ahead are, Knott said he is not without hope.

“There is definitely cause for hope,” he assured. “The change in public perception of energy is real and is driving a lot of utilities to improve their generation mix.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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