Ameren to establish state's largest wind farm in northeast Missouri

Ameren announced an agreement Monday to move forward with a 175-turbine wind farm in northeast Missouri — which, when constructed, would be the largest in the state.

The St. Louis-based electric utility expects the project to break ground in summer 2019 in Adair and Schuyler counties. The 400-megawatt wind farm will be built by an affiliate of the utility-scale renewable energy company, Terra-Gen, and acquired by Ameren after its completion.

windfarm.jpgWind turbines stand over a farmhouse, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, near Northwood, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ameren — which generates about two-thirds of its electricity from an aging fleet of coal-fired power plants — hailed the announcement as its “first major step” in realizing the renewable energy goals outlined in a 20-year outlook it submitted to state regulators last year.

“We see that as a step in the right direction,” said James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, an organization that advocates for increased adoption of renewable energy in the state. “They’re one of the most coal-dominant utilities of its size in the country.”

The announced wind farm shares part of the same corridor where Ameren recently received approval for its proposed Mark Twain Transmission Project — a project targeted for service by December 2019 that the company said would promote access to wind energy.

“That part of the state, when it connects to the Mark Twain line, brings the renewable energy closest to our customers,” said Ajay Arora, Ameren’s vice president of power operations and energy management.

Though nearly encircled by some of the nation’s top producers of wind power, such as Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Illinois — which respectively rank second, third, fifth and sixth in production by state — Missouri sits at 21st in the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association.

While the state does not boast the same overall wind resources as its more prolific neighbors, northern Missouri is an area with potential. While much of the existing development of Missouri wind energy has been concentrated in the northwest part of the state, Ameren says that improvements in wind turbine technology are now making projects feasible in new areas, including northeast Missouri.

Installing and operating the farm’s more-than-450-foot turbines is expected to support 450 to 500 construction jobs and perhaps a couple dozen permanent positions, according to Arora. The project will also generate local tax revenue and provide annual lease payments to landowners for at least a 30-year lifespan.

“I think, over time, that economic impact is going to be very noticeable,” said Owen, describing the fiscal benefits of wind projects to surrounding farms and rural counties.

Although Ameren said the price tag associated with the project is confidential, its generating capacity represents more than half of the 700 megawatts of wind energy the company has committed to build by 2020 — an investment it said would amount to $1 billion.

The utility is “in the midst of several discussions” about developing additional wind projects in Missouri or other states nearby, according to Arora.

“We continue to evaluate sites in Missouri as part of our goals to build 700 megawatts of new wind,” he said.

Over the longer term, the company plans to retire more than half of its coal-fired generation within the next 20 years, and replace it with wind, solar, natural gas or energy storage projects, depending on the competitiveness of each technology. Ameren aims to cut 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

Kirksville, Mo., is in Adair County; Schuyler County is just north of Adair County, along the Iowa border.

May 21, 2018

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