We applaud Ameren Missouri’s announcement this past week to invest $1 billion in wind and solar power technology.

The utility, which operates a coal-fired power plant in Labadie, says the investment will ultimately allow it to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2050 from 2005 levels.

Ameren said it would add at least 700 megawatts of wind generation by 2020.

Without question, this is a significant shift in strategy for Ameren, which has relied on coal-fired power plants to generate the bulk of its power.

The utility said it would retire two coal-fired plants and phase out two units at its Labadie facility in 2037.

Critics of Ameren, including those in Franklin County, may dismiss the news as “it’s about time,” or point out that even with this investment, the majority of its power in the near term will still come from coal plants.

We view the announcement as a great step toward integrating a meaningful amount of renewable and affordable energy to the power grid.

If the announcement means that Ameren has finally seen the light (no pun intended) we say let it shine.

The truth is that Ameren’s evolution to renewables has been hindered by the fact that it has been successful in delivering relatively low-cost electricity to consumers via coal-fired plants.

While the times have changed and consumers have  clamored for cleaner energy, the demand for affordable power has always driven investment decisions.

Wind and solar power generation technology has improved to the point where it is becoming more affordable than traditional coal and gas technology.

That’s why more and more companies and municipalities are adopting renewable energy goals in addition to reducing the carbon footprint. It’s good for the environment and for the bottom line.

The timing is right for Ameren to make this important turn to renewables. We believe the investment will pay dividends for the company, consumers and the environment.