A utility-led renewable energy transition in Missouri

Missouri’s largest utility, Ameren, is moving the state towards a renewable energy future. Read on to learn how this transition is taking place and what it’s likely to mean for Missouri residents and businesses.

The implications are huge. Ameren — the state of Missouri’s largest utility, serving 1.2 million electric and 130,000 natural gas customers in the state — is turning away from its historically dirty, coal-heavy energy mix, and entering the renewable energy supply chain. From late 2018 to mid-2019, Ameren entered into commitments to acquire up to 857 megawatts of wind energy at a cost of USD 1.4 billion. 

This comes at a time when the local and state governments are increasingly opting for renewables, with the city of St. Louis committing to transitioning to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2035, making it the largest city in the Midwest to announce such a goal.

James Owen, Executive Director of Renew Missouri, says that while there isn’t necessarily a statewide plan in place, there’s “certainly movement towards renewables” in the form of significant wind and solar projects, thanks to regulators’ efforts to move the state along.

While Missouri carries on its way towards a clean energy future that will benefit residents, businesses and the environment, challenges remain. Ryan Kennedy, Business Development Manager for Wärtsilä in the U.S. Midwest Region, points out that the long-term goal of having a diverse mix of nuclear, renewable and coal resources in the state by 2035 — is still distant, and there are a range of key challenges Missouri must keep in mind, including potential regulatory changes at all levels of government, the challenges associated with shifting customer demand, rapidly evolving technology and its associated costs, and transmission capacity costs and availability. 

Overcoming technological challenges

Owen says that the state has had some challenges with deploying wind energy because the state “isn’t considered a great place for wind,” and that there’s a need for the technology to become cheaper. He specifically notes that solar energy remains “a bit high in cost,” causing Missouri to remain “a bit behind on solar.”

That’s not all. The highly intermittent nature of wind and solar resources means that Missouri’s utilities will need to pursue a future in which renewables are used as a base load, complemented by batteries with a backup system using, such as Wärtsilä’s flexible engine power plants, running on synthetic fuels.

Kennedy feels that there will “always be technological, cost and storage capacity challenges with batteries,” and that flexible generation capacity will always be needed to ensure that energy systems are flexible and able to respond to changes in demand. Owen agrees, saying that utility-scale battery storage is needed within the next year to help ease the state’s renewable energy transition.

Cheaper, cleaner, and better for all

Another challenge is that the utilities themselves need to know more about their customer bases, says Kennedy. At present, utilities have little to no sense of whether and where their customer base has solar deployed on their rooftops and, consequently, how much load people are putting back into the system thanks to having rooftop solar installations.

Looking to the future, Owen argues that there’s still room for Missouri to raise its renewable energy standards and create requirements for solar production. From the current standards (15% renewables by 2021), Owen hopes to see an increase to 40% by 2035 and then to 80-100% renewable energy by 2050.

Ultimately, Owen and Kennedy agree that renewable energy will bring electricity costs down for customers in Missouri. For his part, Owen believes that renewable energy also “presents an amazing opportunity for Missouri to attract businesses to the state if they’re attracted to cheap renewable energy.” Renewables will make electricity in Missouri, says Kennedy, “cheaper, cleaner, and better in the long term.”

Written by
Lorelei Yang
Contributing Writer at Spoon Agency