UPDATED: Mehlville board first in state to weigh clean-energy resolution

No action taken; work session planned this summer

By Gloria Lloyd

The Mehlville School District became the first school district in Missouri to consider a resolution urging a utility to phase out coal in favor of clean energy last night, but the Board of Education took no action on the resolution.

Instead, the board will schedule a work session during a board meeting this summer where interested parties — the local citizens’ group Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW, Ameren Missouri and the Sierra Club — discuss issues surrounding the Meramec Energy Center, Ameren’s coal-fired plant in Oakville.

Following a presentation by a local group opposed to Ameren Missouri’s coal-fired plant in Oakville, the Mehlville Board of Education is set to consider a resolution this week urging Ameren to increase its reliance on clean energy.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday — May 8 — in the Bierbaum Elementary School Gymnasium, 2050 Union Road.

South county residents opposed to Ameren’s continued use of coal plants, including the Meramec Energy Center in Oakville, have branded themselves as Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW.

Chemical engineer Matt Factor, an Oakville High School graduate, represented the group to ask the board to consider the resolution in support of clean energy, which urges Ameren to completely phase out coal as an electricity source.

Factor noted that Ameren has four coal-fired plants in the St. Louis area, and Meramec is inside the Mehlville School District, “mere blocks away from Rogers Elementary School.”

In 1991, Mehlville completed construction of Rogers Elementary near the Meramec plant, which opened in 1953 at the intersection of the Mississippi and Meramec rivers.

The plant is Ameren’s oldest and is the biggest polluter in St. Louis County.

The plant exacts an untold cost on Mehlville, Factor said, since breathing treatments and students’ absences from school caused by their proximity to the plant cost the district money and deplete the district’s state funding.

He applauded Superintendent Eric Knost and board Vice President Venki Palamand for their work on bringing solar panels to the roofs of five schools in the district.

Although the board approved adding more solar panels last December, those plans are on hold while the district and its solar company, StraightUp Solar, wait in line to see if they receive rebates from Ameren for the panels.

“These (solar panels) are a great cost savings to not only the district’s balance sheet but the entire community when you look at the big picture of reduced health concerns and costs,” Factor told the board. “Currently, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources does not monitor the air or groundwater around any of these facilities. Instead, the utilities are permitted to police themselves. As we have seen with current events, the self-policing did not work in West Virginia and North Carolina. I refer to Freedom Industries and Duke Energy chemical and coal-ash spills. These man-made disasters have devastated their communities.

“There are proposals for the Meramec and Labadie facilities to build more dumps in the flood plains,” he added. “Are you aware that the Meramec facility had a spill in 2013? This spill was only reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources did not alert the public or media. Coal ash flowed across Fine Road and into storm drains for over 24 hours. It’s possible local traffic could have trekked these toxins into the Rogers Elementary playground.”

The Sierra Club is conducting a “Beyond Coal” campaign to urge Ameren to move away from coal as an energy source and sued Ameren in March over what it alleges are more than 10,000 violations of limits on air pollution from the Meramec plant since 2008.

Roughly 50 residents showed up to support CLAW’s presentation to the board, about the same number of people who came to the meeting to hear Knost present the second phase of his long-term facilities plan later that same night.

“The majority of us know that our current way of generating energy results in an unsustainable amount of pollution, and we also know of the solutions that exist out there,” Factor said. “We just need to be willing to invest in them.”

Board member Larry Felton requested that board President Ron Fedorchak place the resolution on the agenda for the next meeting. Felton told the Call that he has no idea how the board will receive the resolution, but he wants the board to be more aware of the conversation about the coal plant that is taking place in the community. He hopes that the board hears from Ameren about the resolution.

“I think we need to broaden the dialogue,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of charges about how there’s not monitoring of groundwater and there’s not monitoring of the air, but I’d like to hear this be put in a more realistic context of what it means for the community and for the board and for the whole school community to learn more about this.”

Since Rogers Elementary is so close to the Meramec Energy Center, the district has a responsibility to look into the issues around the plant, Felton added.

“We have to coexist. What can we do to coexist best?” he said. “What’s their responsibility as a corporate citizen, and what’s our responsibility as a corporate governance body to do the appropriate things for our district? I’d like to see where the conversation goes. I think we need to do what’s necessary as a board to get the facts.”

The resolution reads in part, “While electricity brings great value to our community, it is not without cost. Ameren Missouri produces 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, and a minuscule amount from clean and renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar.

“These coal plants loom over communities not much different than ours, with pollution falling on nearby playgrounds, and toxic coal ash waste threatening drinking water and fields where neighbors grow food. As customers of Ameren, we benefit from electricity, but we all pay for Ameren’s pollution, which causes devastation and destruction in nearby communities.”

The resolution notes that Ameren has a monopoly on electricity service in the St. Louis region, and in contrast, Kansas City Power & Light is “doubling down on clean renewable wind power, saving customers money and reducing dependence on dirty coal-fired power plants. St. Louis deserves the same.”

Ameren spokesman Kent Martin said that the company is diversifying into other types of energy and just broke ground a few weeks ago on a new solar farm, the O’Fallon Renewable Energy Center.

Martin was not able to specifically address the Mehlville resolution before the Call went to press because no one at Ameren had seen it yet.

“We haven’t had the chance to read it — we’d like to know what we’re talking about to comment on it,” he said.