Electric utility company Ameren Missouri says it’s taking on the largest energy infrastructure upgrade plan in its 100-year history. The plan includes 2,000 electric upgrade projects over the next five years throughout its 64-county territory and a number of the projects are already underway.
Ameren says the modernizations will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs. At a press conference in Jefferson City, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a Republican, says the projects are a major economic development boost to the state. He says the top three questions from companies who want to expand or build in Missouri involve utility rates and energy reliability.
“People talk a lot about roads and bridges, which is infrastructure, but energy infrastructure, as we know in our state, is aging just as bad. If you look at when the electricity came to Missouri in the early 1900s, it was upgraded again in the 50s and 60s basically to accommodate air conditioning. We haven’t really done anything since,” Kehoe says.
Ameren is investing $5.3 billion, including for 12,000 new utility poles, more than 400 miles of underground cable and $1 billion for wind energy projects in 2020. Other improvements include more than 70 new or upgraded substations to streamline the network in a more cost-effective and efficient manner and adding more than 800,000 smart electric meters that give customers more understanding and control of their energy options and costs.
Ameren credits rate change legislation signed into law last year for help in funding the enhancements. Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, who chaired the Missouri House Utilities Committee, says the state has made a “giant leap forward” by passing the bipartisan bill.
“Our job was to ensure that this legislation would benefit customers and create jobs and it does,” says Miller. “It’s a great new law for consumers – cutting rates, freezing rates, capping rates are just the beginning.”
Miller, a civil engineer by trade, says overhauling the state’s highway and energy infrastructure is badly needed.
“I just think it turns us into an even more powerful economic engine,” he says.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, was also at the press conference.
“Customers were seeing more frequent and longer power outages in many instances and increasing energy costs for repairs,” Emery says. “This was often because those repairs were being made to a grid that in some parts of the state is well past its expected useful life and is in desperate need of attention.”
The plan also includes new smart grid sensors, switches and other equipment intended to quickly detect and isolate outages and to speed up power restoration when service is interrupted. The feature will be installed in Jefferson City and is one that Kehoe joked about.
“Like we need smart people down here,” he says. “It was like an upgrade in our IQ.”
Warren Wood with Ameren says one of the elements of the plan is to “stay on top” of cybersecurity.
“That’s a critical part of the plan,” says Wood.
Ameren serves 1.2 million electric and 130,000 natural gas customers in central, northern and eastern Missouri with its service area stretching over 24,000 square miles.
Customers can learn more about Ameren’s improvement plan by attending an informational public meeting at 6 p.m. on March 4 at the Millbottom Event Center in Jefferson City.
To view further details about the upgrades, click here.
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