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Ameren's proposed solar plant

Rendering of Ameren Missouri's proposed solar plant at O'Fallon, Mo.

SOURCE: MCI Industrial

Ameren Missouri said Monday that it would build a multi-million-dollar solar energy facility on a 19-acre site next to its electrical substation in O’Fallon, Mo.

The facility’s 19,000 solar panels will provide 5.7 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 650 houses in the St. Louis area, Ameren Missouri officials said.

Bill Barbieri, the utility’s director of renewable strategy, said the O’Fallon center would help determine the size of future solar energy projects.

“This is going to be a great learning tool for us,” he said.

Ameren plans to complete the project’s design, obtain necessary permits and begin construction by April. Utility officials hope to have the project online by December. The site is on utility-owned land next to Ameren Missouri’s Belleau substation near Highway 79.

Barbieri said the project’s cost would be determined after its contractor, MC Industrial Inc., got bids for the solar panels and other equipment the center requires. Similar projects have cost between $10 million and $20 million, he said. The O’Fallon project is expected to generate 50 to 70 construction jobs.

Missourians For A Balanced Energy Future, a lobbying group that backed Ameren’s unsuccessful efforts to develop a small nuclear modular reactor, said the solar project was a significant commitment to locally generated renewable energy.

In a news release, the group’s executive director Irl Scissors added that decisions by Kansas City Power and Light to offer consumers wind energy and the city of Columbia, Mo., to raise renewable-energy standards would provide more Missourians with clean energy.

KCP&L said last week that it would buy 400 megawatts of electricity from two wind farms, bringing its wind-energy capacity to 939 megawatts. The wind farms will be built in eastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri.

In a report last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expected “continued robust growth” in solar electricity generation although the amount of utility-scale generation would represent only about 0.4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation by 2015.

But the federal agency estimates that utility-scale solar energy capacity will rise 40 percent by the end of 2015, with photovoltaic capacity accounting for 85 percent of the growth.

Barbieri said the O’Fallon facility would provide only a tiny fraction of the Ameren Missouri’s power needs but would help determine how an intermittent source such as a solar energy could be part of the electrical grid.

“When the sun shines we will be taking all the power from there,” he said.

Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.