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CHICAGO-After embarking on an Illinois power plant expansion tear over the past several years, St. Louis-based Ameren Corp.’s development arm is setting its growth sights outside the state for the first time, company officials say.

“We are actively looking at development projects outside of Illinois,” says Rick Smith, manager generation development for Ameren Energy Resources Co., the power plant development arm of Ameren. Smith would not divulge exactly where Ameren is looking to expand nor would he give a possible time frame for any development announcements.

Ameren, like other power developers nationwide such as Calpine, Duke and Dynegy, has been building plants at a fast pace in order to meet demand following years of inactivity due to industry uncertainty caused by rapid deregulation of the electric utility business. In the past year, Ameren has developed projects in Gibson City, Pickneyville and Patoka.

The company has been focusing on so-called peaker power plants that provide power to the grid at times of peak demand when power prices can sometimes be many times those prevailing during times of normal demand. Earlier this month, Ameren brought 630 megawatts of peaker capacity on-line from 11 Illinois plants.

But getting these plants built can sometimes be no easy task, as Ameren’s efforts in suburban Elgin may attest. Two weeks ago, Ameren announced it was proposing the development of a big gas-fired 468-megawatt peaker facility at an industrial site on the Southeast side of Elgin. The proposal immediately brought protests from a group that has been formed to oppose a new power facility in nearby Bartlett. The group is now calling for statewide curbs on power plant development.

“This 33-acre site has been examined many times by prospective power developers, its right near the transmission lines,” says Mark Biernacki , Elgin’s community development manager. Biernacki is preparing a staff recommendation on the project and Ameren faces a three-step approval process, including expansion of an existing enterprise zone to include the site.

As power developers scramble to meet demand, they are facing increasing opposition from diverse sources. In power-starved California, where massive increases in utility rates routinely made national news this summer, opposition is coming from unlikely sources. A new power development in Silicon Valley recently came under fire from power hungry Cisco Systems because the company needed the land to develop into office space because it is hiring 1,000 new employees a month.

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