JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Despite most utilities’ efforts to become more efficient under state and federal mandates, Missouri continues to be one of four states left in the union without a smart grid – due to outdated regulations.
“Though there has been legislation introduced that addresses these issues, for at least a decade, stakeholders have not been able to reach an agreement that addresses regulatory lag and provides the ability to build a smart grid and protect consumers,” said Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future’s Irl Scissors.
Current utility regulations on the books were enacted by the state legislature over 100 years ago, in 1913. This past session, and in sessions previous throughout the past decade, state legislators have proposed bills to update the regulations.
“Through the current rate case system the lag between grid investments and cost recovery for those investments is limiting the amount of capital available for the projects needed to modernize and harden our state’s electric grid,” Scissors said. “This slows technology advancements. Much of our state’s electric infrastructure is 50-100 years old and badly needs to be updated, but the current regulatory system doesn’t support additional grid investments. In fact, today’s regulations barely allow Missouri’s utilities to keep up with basic maintenance, in some cases; leaving little room to invest in new infrastructure like smart meters.
“Most other states have updated their energy policies which support these needed investments. This helps keep their states’ electric rates more stable and predictable, hardens their electric grid against physical and cyber-attacks, and creates puts thousands of people to work modernizing their electric infrastructure; thus growing their economies.”
Utilities, such as Ameren Missouri, have proposed plans to the Public Service Commission that would not only update and modernize the electric grid, but create jobs. Ameren’s recent filing shows a $1 billion investment plan which would create over 3,000 jobs.
In other states, such as Florida, the smart grid investment quickly paid off in direct and indirect spending. A federal report showed for every $1 million in direct spending, the gross domestic product grows from $2.5-2.6 million. Further, Florida’s smart grid allowed the state to better weather this past year’s storm season with the new technology.
Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) average electric bill has also decreased for the average consumer by 11% over the past decade.
Yet over the past decade, state legislators such as former state Sen. Brad Lager, current state Sen. Ryan Silvey, and state Rep. Rocky Miller, have made proposals to reduce regulatory lag to allow grid modernization, such as smart grid, to come to Missouri.
The smart grid itself is an updated and modernized electric grid. “Smart” refers to increased information flow to and from lines, which improve efficiency and repairs. In Florida alone, over 500,000 outages have been avoided since the smart grid was implemented.
“Cost savings and efficiencies for consumers are huge benefits [of the smart grid]; and customers will have more real-time information regarding their energy usage, which provides them with more control over their energy bills,” Scissors said. “A smart grid can determine the cheapest times for consumers to use energy which helps everyone from single family homes to hospitals and industrial facilities better manage their energy costs.
Also, the ability to detect outages and interruptions in real-time, finding an alternative secure connection to restore power, is a huge help to energy consumers large and small.”
The below video from FPL demonstrates how the smart grid operates.
“The smart grid encompasses all of the collective technologies that keep the lights on, prevent outages and give customers more information and efficiencies,” said Scissors.
“Currently most utility meters in Missouri read one way, meaning they only measure how much energy is used in each household, business, etc.,” Scissors continued. “Smart meters would connect wirelessly to each other and back to a central hub where usage data can be analyzed and efficiencies and cost saving measures can be transmitted back to the consumer. A smart grid is protected from dangerous cyber threats and most importantly a smart grid can detect outages or interruptions large or small that could impact service. With a smart grid, some power outages can be prevented altogether, while power can be restored within seconds in many cases when outages to occur.”
Scissors joins a chorus of utility-centric professionals who hope to see regulatory lag reduced, allowing utilities to make and see returns on investments quickly.
“Reducing regulatory lag and finding common ground to encourage investment in new infrastructure, specifically a smart grid, will save millions for consumers and reduce the state’s energy consumption significantly over time,” Scissors said.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.