ST. LOUIS — Ameren has announced plans to acquire its largest-ever solar farm, which may begin operations in Southern Illinois within two years.
The move comes as the St. Louis-based power utility’s renewable energy expansion has, at least temporarily, been slowed by supply chain hiccups, among other issues.
“As we went through last year, we had hoped by the end of the year to have announced some renewable projects,” Marty Lyons, Ameren’s new CEO, said on a recent earnings call. “Some of the negotiations last fall and into the winter were, I would just say, slowed by supply chain issues.”
At the same time, at least one environmental group is questioning whether the pace of Ameren’s clean energy build-out has changed.
“Ameren left enough wiggle room to fall short of their commitment,” Jenn DeRose, a Missouri representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement.
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The new agreement between Ameren and Chicago-based Invenergy is still subject to closing conditions and awaits both regulatory approvals and completion of the project, which is under development.
But, once running, the new solar farm should accelerate Ameren’s addition of renewable energy generation and shift away from coal, which currently accounts for about two-thirds of the company’s power production. The utility plans to invest billions in renewables over the next two decades while retiring its coal plants — part of a goal to slash carbon emissions and reach “net zero” by 2050.
The 150-megawatt facility dwarfs Ameren’s existing solar projects by an order of magnitude. Ameren’s biggest solar farm to date is a six-megawatt facility in Montgomery County, scheduled to start running next month.
The company said the new project is in southeastern Illinois but declined to provide a precise location.
The announcement raised questions about the pace of Ameren’s renewable energy expansion plans.
Ameren hopes the Southern Illinois solar project will begin operations in 2024, it said in a press release, but notes such a timeline requires “timely regulatory approvals.”
Ameren didn’t say if the project would satisfy company goals to add 30 more megawatts of solar in 2022, and 20 in 2023, or if it plans to add other projects to fulfill those more immediate targets.
The company, however, indicated on its fourth-quarter earnings call on Friday that more was to come:
“I would say it’s a start, in terms of the renewable projects that we hope to get announced,” Lyons, the CEO, said on the call. “We are still expecting this year to announce other projects…. Some of the bigger bulk of the projects we’re trying to get done are out there in that 2024 to 2026 time frame — so certainly time for some of those issues to settle down.”