As Ameren Missouri looks to its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, its leadership says a Mid-Missouri facility stands as a vital part of those plans.
The utility provider, which serves Jefferson City and the surrounding area, unveiled its latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Tuesday, outlining potential investments in new on-demand energy sources and renewable energy generation to meet rising demand for power.
The IRP lists a myriad of planned new energy sources and investments to strengthen existing assets, with a look at proposed nuclear generation technology among its potential tools.
The Callaway Energy Center, located near Fulton, has been generating nuclear power for more than three decades. The site uses nuclear reactions to heat water and produces steam, which turns turbines that produce electricity, which is then exported to the grid. It generates 1,200 megawatts of non-carbon energy that can be dispatched when needed.
Mark Birk, Ameren Missouri president and chairman, said it was vital to the company's clean energy transition. With several investments in the facility over the years, Birk called it one of Ameren's "crown jewels."
"We filed for an application to extend our license to operate it from 2024-2044, and we'll probably be looking to continue to extend it as this plan lays out. Callaway is one of the foundations of this transition plan," Birk told the News Tribune. "And as we look to the future, we see other options in nuclear power."
The plan includes the possibility of small modular reactors (SMRs), proposed smaller versions of nuclear reactors that can be built in one location and shipped to another for use. Birk said there could be SMRs active by the 2030s or 2040s, and that it was an advancing technology Ameren was closely watching as a potential option.
The IRP outlines ways Ameren hopes to balance reliability, affordability and environmental stewardship to hit its goals of phasing carbon emissions out, lowering emissions 60 percent by 2030, 85 percent by 2040 and entirely by 2045, based on 2005 levels of carbon emissions.
The plan includes a graphic showing the company's generation profile as of 2022, 66 percent of which was comprised of coal-generated power. Nuclear power made up 23 percent, renewables 10 percent and natural gas the remaining 1 percent.
That landscape is projected to change considerably by 2045, with coal phased out entirely and renewables making up the lion's share of energy generation at 37 percent. Other zero-carbon sources would make up 27 percent, with nuclear still currently planned to make up 23 percent and natural gas with hydrogen blended and emissions captured and/or offset.
Ameren seeks to add 2,800 megawatts of solar and wind power by 2030 and 1,900 during the following decade.
The plan's main points include a proposed 800-megawatt on-demand natural gas energy center projected for deployment by 2027. The $800 million potential investment would provide backup power during peak demand times in the summer and winter.
Ameren also pushed back the target date for the addition of a combined-cycle energy center to 2033, allowing it to directly follow the planned 2032 retirement of the coal-based Sioux Energy Center. The company also sought to accelerate its renewable energy additions by four years, investing a total of $9.5 billion to hit 4,700 megawatts of renewable power by 2036.
Other planned investments include $1.3 billion for 800 megawatts of battery storage by 2035, and 2,400 megawatts of clean, on-demand generation for customers by 2043.
The ultimate goal is to facilitate the transition to clean energy while maintaining low rates for customers, said Ajay Arora, Ameren Missouri's senior vice president and chief renewable development officer.
Ameren last updated its long-term plans in June 2022, and a news release from the company highlighted several moves made since then. The coal-fired Meramec Energy Center shut down at the end of the year, marking another step toward Ameren's transition away from coal-based energy. It also proposed the retirement of its coal-fired Rush Island Energy Center in Festus, received approval to acquire two solar facilities upon their completion and unveiled plans to build or acquire an additional 550 megawatts of solar capacity to serve customers between 2024-2026.
The Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, argued in its own press release that the plan "adds even more fossil fuel investments than its previous plan."
The group said the natural gas burned in Ameren's power plants was predominantly methane, which is sourced in a pollution-heavy way, and that gas power plants have proven unreliable in extreme weather events, pointing to extreme winter storms in recent years.
"Ameren has previously refused to consider public health impacts or the upstream release of methane gas during fracking and pipeline transportation, and it's unlikely that changed this time. Locking captive customers into brand new fossil fuel investments may look good to shareholders, but it is a bad deal for customers and downwind communities," Jenn DeRose, Missouri Beyond Coal Campaign representative, said in the statement.
Learn more about the plan online at ameren.com/missouri/company/environment-and-sustainability/integrated-resource-plan.