Advocates see upside in rejection of Missouri utility’s clean energy resolution

A shareholder resolution aimed at forcing a Missouri utility to increase its investment in renewable energy won about 8.5 percent of the votes cast at the company’s annual meeting on Thursday.

That margin is high enough that it means the resolution met an important threshold: it automatically qualifies to go before Ameren shareholders again next year, said John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter, who introduced the resolution at the meeting.

The 8.5 percent yes vote “shows a lot of concern in the investor community that is watching climate issues,” said Christina Herman, who directs the climate change and environment program for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. The group had no role in the Ameren vote, but advises institutional investors of corporate practices with regard to their employees, the environment and the like.

According to federal regulations, a first-time resolution that garners at least 3 percent of the votes cast automatically qualifies to be on the company ballot the following year. Hickey said the Sierra Club is committed to introducing either this resolution, or another related resolution, at next year’s annual meeting.

Activist shareholder resolutions are a way to bring issues to the attention of both shareholders and company management. If a resolution is supported by the owners of even, say, 20 percent of the shares, often “the company will agree to dialogue with us,” said Herman. “There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes.”

Resolutions can stimulate change, even if it’s not precisely the change outlined in the resolution, according to Hickey.

“It is a way to reach the world of people who move big money, who can then size up the situation and say … ‘I’ll move my money elsewhere,’” he said.

The resolution, which was drafted and filed by the California non-profit As You Sow, would require Ameren to derive at least 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030, and at least 70 percent by 2050. Ameren and other investor-owned utilities are now required by Missouri law to obtain at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021.

At present, according to Hickey, about 1 percent of the company’s electricity is from wind and solar. He pointed out that the state’s other large utility, Kansas City Power & Light, now gets about 12 percent of its electricity from all renewable sources combined.

Ameren urged shareholders to reject the resolution and responded to the Sierra Club by proposing, over the next 20 years, to make the following additions to its renewable generation resources: 400 megawatts of wind, 45 megawatts of solar, 28 megawatts of hydropower and 5 megawatts of landfill gas.

Considering that KCP&L recently announced that it would add 500 megawatts of wind to its portfolio in the coming year, Hickey termed Ameren’s response “lackluster.”

He was cheered by the vote – not only the 8.5 percent of votes in favor of the renewable-energy resolution, but also the 24.2 percent of votes that abstained from taking a position. Hickey called that “a very high abstention rate.” He views those as people who “refused to endorse the Ameren suggestion” that they reject the resolution.

Taken altogether, Hickey said, “This is, I would say, not a disappointing result.”

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