Building a Smarter Energy Infrastructure

by Daetta Jones
Ameren Illinois

Not only do these projects improve reliability, they provide jobs and help grow the local economy.

The energy delivery system that we have come to rely on is in the midst of transformative change. As you go about your business in central Illinois, you undoubtedly pay little attention to the poles and wires and substations that deliver the power for our homes and businesses. You probably don't give a second thought to the hundreds of miles of unseen underground pipelines that safely deliver natural gas.

To the uninterested, it may appear that little has changed in more than a century. But behind the scenes, and underground, a technologically advanced network is evolving every day to meet the needs of the region's residential and business customers.

Here's the good news: Upgrades to the natural gas and electric infrastructure in Greater Peoria are resulting in better reliability and savings for businesses and residents. In 2016, Ameren Illinois installed $11.4 million in electric infrastructure enhancements, including $2.4 million in new technology and stronger distribution equipment in the region. Along with natural gas delivery improvements, these projects have contributed to a 17-percent average improvement in system reliability statewide, and have benefitted residential and small commercial customers by an estimated $45 million a year in avoided outage costs since 2012.

Since the 10-year, $3.5 billion modernization program began in 2012, Ameren Illinois has added intelligent switches and smart sensors that quickly detect and restore outages. Along with installation of sturdier, storm-ready utility poles, higher-capacity transformers, and new overhead and underground lines, these technology upgrades have resulted in 237,000 fewer annual electricity service interruptions on average.

Other smart grid enhancements being implemented in the Peoria area include the installation of high-voltage distribution relaying devices to quickly pinpoint the location of a problem on a circuit; replacement of underground cables that are prone to corrosion, fatigue or other stresses; installation of distribution substation transformers; hundreds of miles of new high-capacity power lines; stronger, storm-hardened power poles; and installation of smart sensors and switches on poles and substations to quickly detect problems and isolate interruptions.

On the natural gas side, Ameren Illinois is strengthening the integrity and performance of the natural gas system to boost reliability and better secure public safety. Over the next three years, Ameren Illinois will invest more than $21 million to replace over eight miles of vintage, 16-inch steel, high-pressure transmission pipeline from Tremont to East Peoria.

Not only do these electric and natural gas projects improve reliability to meet the evolving needs of customers, they provide jobs and help grow the local economy. Ameren Illinois hired new employees and engaged contractors to complete local projects and support day-to-day operations in the area. In all, the company has filled nearly 1,200 jobs throughout its service territory since it began implementing its energy infrastructure upgrade plan in 2012.

A stronger, more modern grid is giving area businesses the confidence that their energy needs will be met today and in the future. As we undertake this massive overhaul of a century-old system, we'll continue to partner with local businesses to expand and grow here in the Greater Peoria area. iBi

Daetta Jones is Director of Division Operations for Ameren Illinois.

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