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Ameren begins installation of smart energy grid in Jefferson City

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Ameren began its installation of new switchgear units Tuesday that will ultimately facilitate a smart technology grid throughout Missouri’s capital city. 

Ameren began replacing an underground unit on East State Street just a few blocks from its Jefferson City office with a nearly 3,000 pound switchgear Tuesday morning. The new unit will be installed, energized, and operational by the end of the day, officials told The Missouri Times during a media event. 

However, the smart side of the system won’t be viable until all of the eight switchgears as well as the fiber-optic system are installed; Ameren has set a deadline for the $1.2 million project for December. 

“The Jefferson City Smart Grid Project will modernize and dramatically upgrade underground infrastructure to provide more reliable electric services to local and state agencies and businesses that serve millions of Missouri families on a daily basis,” Chip Webb, the division director of central Missouri for Ameren, said. 

The Jefferson City Smart Grid Project — the first in the state — is part of Ameren’s five-year, multi-billion dollar Smart Energy Plan for Missouri. The plan stems from SB 564, controversial legislation signed into law last year.  

Once the new smart technology grid is fully operational, customers shouldn’t expect to see any impact — positive or negative — to bills. It will, however, cut down on outage times, Webb told The Missouri Times. 

Webb
Chip Webb, division director of central Missouri for Ameren, said the Jefferson City project is the first for the state (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).

When an outage occurred with the current underground system, a troubleman would need to visit individual units, check fault indicators, and isolate a particular defective cable. The process “does take some time,” Webb said. 

Once it’s fully installed, the new system will automatically detect and re-route power during outages. All of the units except one in the system are above flood stage and shouldn’t be impacted by flooding, Webb said. However, even if flooding did affect a unit, it wouldn’t be as detrimental because the smart system would fix any issue quickly, Webb said.

While Ameren expects to install similar smart technology grids elsewhere in Missouri, the company doesn’t have any concrete plans to do so yet. Webb expects Ameren will eventually install similar switchgears in St. Louis City and County. 

An increased reliability on technology raises a concern of potential cybersecurity threats. Webb said Ameren already employs a “robust IT department” that is constantly being “recreated … to make sure we have the right cybersecurity type individuals in place.” 

Ameren
The eight-unit system is expected to be in place and fully operational by December (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).

The Jefferson City project isn’t expected to create any new jobs, but Webb said he is expanding his workforce over the next few years to support the Smart Energy Plan as a whole.  

The new switchgears have been on the books for Ameren for a few years, but the company waited until it had the budget to support it — which it now does thanks to SB 564. 

The bill, which was the subject of heated filibusters in the state Senate last year, accelerated smart energy infrastructure, provided $5.3 billion in capital investment, and included a $1 billion for wind generation projects. It allowed companies to recoup costs for grid improvements and implemented certain rate provisions. 

But opponents of the bill vociferously argued it would make it easier for utility companies to raise rates on customers. 

“What we’re doing, we’re working very diligently to ensure as we spend that money, we’re also controlling costs and keeping customer affordability as much as we can,” Webb said Tuesday. 

The old units will be sent back to Ameren’s facility in St. Louis to be either refurbished or salvaged. The company said the Capitol building, Department of Transportation, Department of Revenue, Jefferson City Hall, Cole County Courthouse, and the Cole County Sheriff’s Department and jail are among the places that will “benefit” from the new technology.