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Ameren Missouri Proposes Solar Energy Farms For Three Rural Cities

Ameren employee performing maintenance on a solar panel at the O'Fallon Renewable Energy Center.
Ameren employee performing maintenance on a solar panel at the O'Fallon Renewable Energy Center.

Ameren Missouri plans to install solar farms and storage facilities for three rural Missouri communities. 

If approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission, the $68 million project could provide solar power to as many as 10,000 residents in Utica and Green City, in northern Missouri, and Richwoods, 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. The three cities are at the end of 20-mile transmission lines and often experience long power outages.

The 10-megawatt facilities the utility aims to build next year would each have a battery that could power connected homes for several hours. That would help reduce the time the area is without power, said Kevin Anders, Ameren Missouri’s vice president of distribution operations and technical services. 

“If [outages] occur at all, it will just be a matter of minutes instead of four to five hours,” Anders said. “We can improve the [service] reliability of all those locations by having this solar storage energy option.”

Utica, Green City and Richwoods have experienced multiple lengthy power outages in the past five years during storms. The batteries could benefit about 2,000 residents in those areas, Anders said. 

For decades, the solar energy industry has been developing storage technologies, but installing storage facilities has recently become more affordable. Ameren’s project would hopefully lead to the construction of more storage facilities in Missouri, said James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, a nonprofit group that advocates for renewable energy. 

“I think this will be good for the entire Ameren service territory,” Owen said. “This will be something you’ll see replicated in a lot of other places. You already see storage being done at individual households. I think Ameren could start putting it in individual neighborhoods, communities. We see this as the start of moving in that direction.” 

Liberty Utilities-Empire District in Joplin also plans to build solar energy storage facilities in its service area. 

The proposed solar and storage facilities are a part of Ameren Missouri’s efforts to increase its solar generation by 100 megawatts by 2027. The company plans cut 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions it produced in 2005 by 2050. 

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Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.