Ameren to close Meramec plant in 2022

Plans for coal-ash landfill at site being dropped

By Gloria Lloyd

Ameren Missouri had hinted at the possibility that its coal-fired power plant in Oakville could someday close, but last week the utility made it official: The Meramec plant will close in 2022 — or perhaps even sooner, depending on the impact of future federal government regulations.

“It was something we had been considering for some time. Just looking at it from 10,000 feet, we’re focused on transitioning to a cleaner, more diverse energy portfolio, but we need to do that in a responsible fashion,” said Warren Wood, the company’s vice president of external affairs, noting that the company’s Board of Directors voted in June to close the plant.

In light of the eventual shutdown of the Meramec Energy Center, Ameren is also dropping its plans to build a coal-ash landfill at the site, Wood added. That plan sparked opposition from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, and a resolution against coal energy that is pending at the Mehlville Board of Education.

For years, the Missouri Sierra Club has targeted Meramec through its “Beyond Coal” campaign, even suing Ameren in February for what the organization alleges are violations of emissions standards — a charge Ameren denies.

A local Oakville group, South County CLAW — Clean Land, Air and Water — has also partnered with the Sierra Club to oppose Ameren’s local coal production, with members appearing many times at the County Council to urge local politicians to act.

“Communities in south St. Louis have struggled with unsafe air for decades, and Ameren’s announcement that it will stop burning coal at the Meramec power plant is an important step forward for these communities,” Beyond Coal organizer Sara Edgar said in a news release on Ameren’s decision.

Asked if the Sierra Club’s campaign had anything to do with the decision to close Meramec, Wood responded, “This is a plan we’ve been working on for years. We’re glad that the Sierra Club is happy with it.”

Depending on pending U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations as well as new emissions standards that would limit emissions from coal, the plant could be closed sooner than 2022, Wood said. An earlier closing date would take several years to plan and would be closer to the 2022 timeline than now.

Roughly 200 people currently work at Meramec, and Ameren is still looking into its options for transferring those employees to other jobs, so Wood had no indication of how many people might lose their jobs. He noted, however, that many people would be retiring from the plant between now and 2022, which would minimize job losses from the decision.

The Meramec plant, which opened at the intersection of the Missouri and Meramec rivers in 1953, is the oldest of Ameren’s four coal plants in Missouri. It also produces less power than Ameren’s three newer Missouri coal plants, including roughly a third of the power that the Labadie Energy Center in Franklin County does.

If Meramec loses in 2022, the plant will be 69 years old, far exceeding the typical 45- to 50-year lifespan of coal plants nationwide, Wood noted.

Ameren stores leftover coal ash from the Meramec plant at ponds at the site, both lined and unlined. The company previously closed its coal plant in Venice, Ill., in 2003, where the coal-ash ponds are kept in place and maintained as is.

Wood said Ameren will work with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to close out the Meramec plant and figure out how to address the coal-ash ponds. Ameren will continue to own and maintain the property, like it does in Venice, he added.