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Ameren Corp., a major utility company that serves much of eastern Missouri, could build its largest hydroelectric plant in scenic Reynolds County near Johnson Shut-ins, a breathtaking section of waterway enjoyed by Missourians every hot summer, and Taum Sauk Mountain, the state's highest peak at 1,772 feet.

Ameren Development Co., a subsidiary of the energy company, applied in June for a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The 770-megawatt plant atop Church Mountain would include two reservoir dams and become operational in six to eight years.

Here is how such plants work:

A dam at a high elevation contains water. During times of peak electricity demand, the pressure of water falling through a tunnel is used to create electricity. The water is held at a low elevation by another dam. In the wee hours, during times of low demand for power, the water is pumped back up to the upper reservoir. The process repeats itself every day as needed.

No natural gas. No coal. Just water, a renewable resource.

And still the environmentalists are up in arms before the project is even out of the gate. They are concerned the plant would destroy plant life and animal habitat.

"We're concerned because this is one of the best tourism regions in the entire state, and they're talking about putting a huge concrete dam in one of its most scenic areas," Ted Heisel of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment commented for a recent article on the subject.

Yes, we need to look out for scenic areas.

But take a look at Ameren's other major hydroelectric facility in that region.

The company for years has operated a hydroelectric plant on nearby Proffit Mountain. The water sits in a lake at the top of the mountain. It rushes down during the day and is pumped back up at night. The plant produces 440 megawatts. And most tourists don't even know it's there.

Ameren is committed to developing the plant in an "environmentally sensitive manner," a spokeswoman says. It would be wise to do so, given investors who don't want the company to have a black eye.

But realistically, Missouri needs more electricity. Our demands are growing. Plants have to keep up with those demands.

And how many who would oppose the clean, safe hydroelectric plant would be willing to give up a home computer or television?

Ameren should be allowed, with full compliance with all regulations, to develop its plant and provide for Missouri's needs.