Ameren VP On Sustaining The Grid While Moving To Clean Energy
As the vice president of sustainability and electrification for Ameren, Gwen Mizell is juggling more than one big challenge. Climate pledges are great — and Ameren has set a net-zero-carbon-emissions-by-2050 goal of its own. But how does a utility company make the shift to clean energy while maintaining reliable and affordable services, and also reckon with the reality that the technology needed to become totally green does not yet exist?
“Companies, as you might imagine,” Mizell said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, “hesitate to put out a commitment out there where there doesn’t exist a current pathway.”
“We are for a net-zero, by 2050, carbon future,” she added. “We are [also] for significant funding for clean energy and R&D systems. If you think about how we get there — the carbon capture and storage kinds of solutions, hydrogen, the types of research that we’ll need to get us there — those are big issues. And we can’t do that without the federal government making a significant commitment to research and development.”
Ameren prides itself on being the largest owner and operator of wind generation in Missouri, and has announced plans to build the company’s largest solar facility later this year. However, Mizell and her colleagues also point to the blackouts in Texas earlier this year, as well as ongoing concerns about the overall power grid, in arguing for the need to maintain “diverse energy resources” amid increasing public pressure to shift as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels.
“There are a lot of studies and analyses that are going on currently around exactly what happened in Texas,” Mizell noted, “but I think just kind of preemptively we know that the supply of diverse energy has to be there. We heard quite a bit about the wind systems during the cold snap. But likewise, there were issues associated with gas supply.”
She told host Sarah Fenske that there’s much work ahead in preparing utility systems for a future marked by increasingly frequent adverse weather events.
“We have to think about the investments to put in those heating systems that will keep the gas flowing, or heating systems that will keep the renewable energy systems active even in subzero temperatures,” Mizell explained.
She also addressed recent criticism of Ameren Missouri by the Sierra Club, which has called the utility’s 2050 climate goal “too slow.”
“It’s not a single-dimensional issue; there are many, many moving parts,” Mizell said. “And so as we think about how we decarbonize, yes, we are for getting to a net-zero carbon future by 2050. We are absolutely for that. And we are running as fast as we can to decarbonize as rapidly as we can. But at the same time, we cannot compromise the system reliability and customer affordability. We’ve seen some of those impacts.”
The conversation touched on the Green New Deal for Cities Act of 2021, a bill introduced in Congress by U.S. Reps. Cori Bush (D-St. Louis County) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) that would funnel $1 trillion to cities, towns and tribes to address climate change.
That legislation would bar those funds from being spent on nuclear energy, as Bush discussed on St. Louis on the Air last month. Mizell said Ameren Missouri remains committed to nuclear power in the coming years.
“We feel, and I feel like most of our peers that we work with through the Edison Electric Institute feel, that nuclear is a key component of any portfolio as we go forward. … Nuclear is a zero-carbon resource, a really safe, reliable resource,” Mizel said. “And as part of our Integrated Resource Plan, you will note that we have a commitment to look at extending the operating license of our Callaway Energy Center beyond its current life of 2044 as a part of our going-forward plan.”
“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.