Ameren Missouri announced plans Tuesday to burn more natural gas in the coming years, though it claims the decision doesn't undermine pledges to reduce its carbon emissions.
The St. Louis-based utility, which serves more than 1.2 million Missouri customers, says it is still planning to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Ameren announced its plans to add another natural gas plant to its fleet of power generators at the same time it laid out new investments in clean energy and vowed a quicker timeline for adding utility-scale battery storage.
Ajay Arora, chief renewable development officer for Ameren Missouri, said in an interview Tuesday the company was adding natural gas primarily to burn intermittently to help meet periods of peak demand.
"Since our customers are electrifying more in order to meet their decarbonization goals, while we accelerate the deployment of renewables, we also want to ensure that we are meeting reliability under all conditions, in all hours -- even under extreme weather conditions," Arora said.
Ameren disclosed its upcoming investments in its "integrated resource plan," which it files with Missouri regulators.
The Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club panned the announcement in a press release, saying the company is "not serious about acting on climate change or being a good community partner."
"Ameren's announcement reeks of greenwashing because its energy plan is to burn a lot of potent greenhouse gasses," said Jenn DeRose, a Missouri representative for the group's Beyond Coal Campaign.
Ameren announced plans last year to construct a natural gas plant by 2031 capable of producing 1,200 megawatts.
Now, according to its filing, it expects to build a smaller 800 megawatt plant by 2027 and a combined-cycle plant in 2033 that could later be converted to run off on hydrogen rather than methane or "natural gas."
The plan also moves up investments in battery storage, a developing technology that could boost grid reliability.
Adding batteries to the grid would allow renewable energy to be banked at times when generators are producing plenty and spent when demand is high, making clean energy more flexible. Without storage, solar and wind power are available as the weather permits.
Ameren's filing says the company will add 2,800 megawatts of solar and wind power by 2030, along with the 800 megawatt natural gas plant. In the 2030s, it plans to add another combined 1,900 megawatts of wind and solar power while retiring coal plant units.
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.