ST. LOUIS – Recent commitments to clean energy from area companies and municipalities have been met with praise but also questions about feasibility, given the local grid's reliance on coal.
On Monday, Ameren Missouri proposed a new program that could help businesses and communities meet such goals. In a filing with the state Public Service Commission, Ameren said its Renewable Choice Program would enable customers to "subscribe" to wind energy for up to 100 percent of their average energy needs.
The move comes on the heels of the utility's September announcement that it will invest $1 billion in new wind generation -- its biggest commitment yet to renewable energy.
"This is really a followup from our plan filed in September," said Ajay Arora, Ameren's vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning. "This would provide a way for customers and cities looking to acquire renewable energy."
Though he could not disclose specific companies, Arora noted that "several of our large corporate customers" have expressed interest in the program, which he said would be the first of its kind in Missouri offered by an investor-owned utility.
Arora said Ameren has yet to determine where the program's wind energy would come from, though he voiced a preference for sourcing it as close to the customer as possible. He said the program "has the option for Ameren to provide this need ourselves" as the company adds more wind generation.
Renewable energy advocates said the move was another welcome sign that Ameren recognizes the growing demand for wind power.
"They're finally recognizing that customers want clean energy and that's significant," said Andy Knott, a representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Missouri.
The proposal needs PSC approval. Knott said prospective customers will want to ensure that they will not be locked into prices that could be undercut by wind power's plummeting costs.
If the program proves viable, Knott said, it can help facilitate renewable energy commitments announced by cities and companies. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen recently passed a resolution intending to pursue 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
"Is it a fair program that adequately represents the falling price of wind? Because if it's fair then, yeah, this should really bolster the corporate and municipal goals for clean energy," he said.
During the approval process, Knott said, it will be interesting to see if any companies argue for having the right to shop for power purchase agreements on their own, rather than having utilities like Ameren serve as gatekeepers.
"Basically this is a power purchase agreement that is controlled by the utility," Knott said. "It does not give the Walmarts or Anheuser-Busches of the world the freedom to go out there and make proposals and find the lowest price. They have to go to Ameren to find that."