Prominent local leaders and clean energy advocates are pressuring Ameren to retire its fleet of coal plants by 2030 — up to 15 years earlier than planned — and transition entirely to clean energy.
Supporters include more than a dozen regional mayors, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, the Sierra Club, and Democratic congressional nominee Cori Bush, who was a featured speaker at a Thursday afternoon news conference on the matter. The elected officials backing the move represent at least 1.3 million people across Ameren’s service territory, according to organizers of the news conference.
“We’re calling on Ameren to not continue on the status quo, but to reach for something greater,” Bush said. “The time for big change is now.”
This is not the first time that officials and advocates have pushed Ameren to move away from coal more quickly. But it’s rare for a group of such prominent leaders to criticize the area’s only electric utility so publicly. And it comes with Ameren’s heavy reliance on coal under scrutiny. The company has to file a new long-term plan for power generation with state utility regulators by Oct. 1.
Ameren said in response that it has been working on the issue with “stakeholders,” including the Sierra Club, for more than a year.
“Right now, we are carefully evaluating several approaches to best meet our customers’ future energy needs and continue the transition to cleaner, more diverse generation resources in a responsible fashion,” Ameren said in a statement Thursday.
Ameren generates nearly two-thirds of its electricity from coal, and the company’s two largest coal plants are slated to run into the 2040s.
When Ameren filed its last long-term generation plan in 2017 — known as an integrated resource plan, or IRP — the outlook included its largest commitment to renewable energy to date, with related investments of $1 billion and a push for wind to account for about 10% of the company’s power production.
The company has also outlined goals to reduce its carbon emissions at least 35% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.
Those goals, however, fall shy of the latest targets from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Speakers at Thursday’s news conference called for more bold, and more urgent, change from the company.
“Ameren’s IRP needs to look completely different than any plan it’s had before,” said Leah Clyburn, a St. Louis-based organizer for the Sierra Club. “We need to see sustainable change that matches the scale of climate change we see today.”
“We can’t continue to go down the path that we’re going,” added the Rev. Rodrick Burton, pastor of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. He said that the urgency of climate action is powerfully underscored by high-profile disasters intensified and made more likely by a warmer atmosphere — from widespread wildfires on the West Coast to fierce hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
Beyond its climate change implications, Bush described what she said is the “true cost of coal” — including its effects on air quality and human health. While those factors can levy a cost on many of the region’s residents, she and others emphasized their disproportionate impact on communities of lower-income and minority residents.
Just last week, community leaders, organizations and businesses signed a letter calling on Ameren to accelerate its shift from fossil fuels. They noted that St. Louis has some of the highest adolescent asthma rates in the country and that Black children are 10 times more likely than white children to visit the emergency room for asthma attacks.
“Remaining tied to harmful fossil fuels is a disservice to our community and to the children that live and play here,” the leaders wrote in the Sept. 3 letter.
On Thursday, Bush called on the company to seize a chance to “be a leader.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Cori Bush is the congresswoman-elect.