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Ameren again accelerates closure of Rush Island power plant

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Rush Island power plant future uncertain

Ameren's Rush Island power plant south of Festus pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. An appeals court, on Friday, ruled that Ameren must install pollution controls at the power plant, a project that will cost a projected $833 million according to Ameren. Photo by Colter Peterson,

ST. LOUIS — Ameren is now targeting a September closure of its second-largest coal-fired power plant, the power utility said in legal filings this week — earlier than the 2024 deadline the company proposed in December, when it first agreed to shut down the facility well over a decade sooner than once intended.

The early retirement facing the St. Louis-based utility’s Rush Island Energy Center, in Jefferson County, comes after a decadelong legal battle over the power plant and years of Clean Air Act violations. Although the plant’s days are now numbered, the courtroom squabbles in recent weeks and months have shifted to questions of when and how Rush Island should stop running.

An answer to those questions could largely hinge on an evolving dialogue with the regional electric grid overseer, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO. MISO is working to gauge the effects of the loss of Rush Island on power grid reliability — and could even extend plant operations. 

Ameren has now reached agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Sierra Club — both plaintiffs in the legal case — on paperwork it will soon submit to MISO about charting the power plant’s shrinking future, according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court in St. Louis.

Ameren said in the new court documents that it aimed to suspend Rush Island’s operations “for economic reasons” starting on Sept. 1. 

But the company's submission to MISO also describes some scenarios in which the plant could at least partially continue operations, if the grid manager deems it necessary or prudent for purposes of energy reliability.

For instance, it's possible that Rush Island could be kept in service as a “System Support Resources” unit — a designation MISO can give to sources of power generation that would otherwise stop running. Such a move would result in an agreement that outlines the conditions of the facility’s continued service and how to provide compensation for its operation.

Ameren specifically requested that MISO “further consider” options such as allowing just one of the plant’s two units to operate, or running one or both of Rush Island’s units during emergencies and times of peak demand, as well as other alternatives in which the facility could produce power at less than full capacity.

In December, when Ameren first announced its intention to retire Rush Island ahead of schedule, the utility said the coal plant would stop running by a March 2024 deadline for legal compliance, established in court.

But ensuing court filings from the DOJ argued that Rush Island should close as soon as possible because Ameren has "reaped significant financial benefits" for its failure to install air pollution controls at Rush Island and because the plant's still-uncontrolled emissions pose continued risks to public health.

“Any delay in the plant’s shutdown will come at the expense of human health and welfare,” the DOJ said in a December filing. The agency also accused Ameren of dragging its feet for years throughout the legal fight, and for trying to engineer a "drawn out" retirement plan at Rush Island that would benefit the company.

Ameren responded by saying that it "was not sitting on its hands" and that the DOJ had unfairly attributed "a bad motive" to the company's actions. It said assessments of grid reliability, conducted with MISO, would be pivotal in guiding plans for Rush Island's closure, and that key parts of that planning could not have begun until the utility finalized its recent decision to retire the plant early.



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