Updating the grid is under way in the metro-east as Ameren Illinois spends the next 10 years replacing out-of-date electrical infrastructure.
The utility provider is investing millions of dollars to install a "smart grid" and "smart meters" at residences across 43,700 square miles in Illinois. Ameren Illinois Southern Illinois Division Director George Justice has said this is a proactive move to improve infrastructure now and focus on what Ameren customers' energy needs will be in 2030.
More than $22 million is invested throughout Southwestern Illinois. Ameren is investing $9 million in Belleville to improve reliability and service capacity. Upgrades already completed in the city include $400,000 in capacity and reliability improvements at the Richland Creek Substation, $175,000 in upgrades to the South Belleville substation, $900,000 in line work to support construction of the Concordia Substation that will connect with 44th Street and Millstadt substations, $2.5 million to build a new West Haven Substation at 1700 Freeburg Ave. and $1.9 million in infrastructure improvements to the C Street and Second Street substation at 217 N. Missouri Ave.
The utility company is also investing an additional $3.1 million in Shiloh, $10.3 million in Waterloo in Monroe County, $5.5 million in Alton and $1.6 million in Marine in Madison County, and $1.9 million in Jerseyville in Jersey County.
These upgrades were made possible by the Illinois Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, which was enacted in the fall of 2011. This legislation paved the way to modernize the state's antiquated electric grid. The high-tech smart grid will have two-way communication to give utilities the ability to adjust and control the flow of energy to individual users. When the project is completed in 10 years, the improved grid is expected to reduce outages and energy waste.
John Barud, Ameren's senior director of division operations, said the cost of these upgrades will cost residential customers an average of $3.40 a year.
"It's a combination of adding capacity and to make sure we're positioned for future growth by doing maintenance or replacing our out-of-date facilities and making sure that we are in position to provide safe and reliable service for our customers," Barud said.
Consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board has been closely following the project. Board spokesman Jim Chilsen said Ameren's rates have been in decline lately and the utility's delivery rates are projected to fall by $38 million next year.
"We certainly hope these upgrades lead to benefits for consumers," Chilsen said. "We want to make sure consumers get the benefits and not just the bill."
However, Chilsen said CUB and other consumer advocates believe that a more fair delivery rate would be closer to a $50 million cut.
"We'd like to see a bigger decrease," Chilsen said. "We think the company has enough resources to do what it needs to do and still give people a rate decrease closer to $50 million."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.