St. Louis pursues 100 percent clean energy, shrugs off coal opposition

City View

St. Louis pursues 100 percent clean energy, shrugs off coal opposition

Illustration of St. Louis Gateway Arch and capital building
The Missouri city is advancing a clean energy pledge.

St. Louis lawmakers are working on a plan to get the city off of coal-fired power and switch to 100 percent clean energy by 2035.

That is no small feat for a city in the middle of coal country. Two of the world’s biggest coal producers, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, are headquartered in St. Louis, and the city’s utility, Ameren, uses coal as its primary power generation fuel.

But times are changing.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen in late October unanimously passed the clean-energy resolution, with support from Ameren, which has its own renewable energy plans.

"America has to do its part," Lewis Reed, the board’s president and author of the resolution, said. "You take a look at what is happening in the White House right now with President Trump pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. It is a scary thing for all of us who care about sustainability."

St. Louis has joined 43 other U.S. cities that have committed to 100 percent clean energy, and five cities that already use renewables for all their power usage, according to the Sierra Club.

Anheuser Busch InBev and Nestle Purina, both of which are headquartered in St. Louis, have committed to achieving 100 percent clean energy, along with 115 other companies including Ikea, Starbucks and Whole Foods, which have a strong retail presence in the city.

The influence of these companies appears to be offsetting that of the coal industry.

Peabody Energy unsuccessfully opposed St. Louis’ clean-energy resolution, arguing that renewable energy costs more than conventional power.

"We caution against artificial renewable standards that will increase costs and reduce reliability," Peabody stated on its website.

Meanwhile, Ameren's Missouri utility is pivoting toward wind and solar, in part because of their relatively low cost.

The company said in September that it would invest about $1 billion to obtain 700 megawatts of wind power generation by 2020, and add 100 megawatts of solar power over the next decade. The plan would boost the share of renewables in Ameren’s power mix to 10 percent, provide customers with clean-energy options and put the utility on a path toward its goal of cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2050.

The utility this week unveiled a new program that offers large commercial and municipal customers the option to buy wind power to match up to 100 percent of their average power usage.

"We share the desire for renewable energy," Michael Moehn, president of Ameren’s Missouri utility, said in a statement.

Missouri has 659 megawatts of installed wind-power capacity (PDF), less than one-tenth the amount that neighboring Iowa and Oklahoma each have, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The state has solid wind-power potential, particularly in the western and northern areas, according to wind resource maps published by the National Renewable Energy Lab. 

A buildout of wind and solar would help drive down Missouri’s carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, which reached 68 million metric tons in 2015, eighth highest among U.S. states, according to the Energy Department.

St. Louis’ clean-energy plan, scheduled to be drafted by the end of 2018, likely will include boosting energy efficiency in buildings, installing bike sharing and encouraging construction of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, Reed said.

Cities will play a major role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a report by C40 Cities and the McKinsey Center for Business and the Environment. Cities will achieve reductions by buying renewable energy from afar and installing distributed clean power generation, such as solar panels, boosting use of mass transit, bicycling and walking to cut transportation emissions, requiring new buildings to be more energy efficient and diverting waste from landfills and incinerators, according to the report.