JEFFERSON CITY • A year after convincing state lawmakers to make significant changes to state utility laws, Missouri’s largest electric provider unveiled a plan Thursday to launch more than 2,000 grid improvement projects over the next five years.
In a proposal filed with the state’s Public Service Commission, Ameren Missouri said the $6.3 billion plan will modernize the grid and enhance how customers receive and consume electricity, while also keeping rates stable.
“Building a smart grid for the future of energy in Missouri is foundational to our mission to power the quality of life for our customers and the communities we serve for generations to come,” said Ameren Missouri President Michael Moehn.
The proposal includes a detailed plan for construction projects in 2019, including underground work in downtown St. Louis that seeks to improve reliability.
Moehn acknowledged that could mean more construction barricades in the city’s core business district.
“The challenge downtown is always working with the streets department,” Moehn said.
The company also plans to install 800,000 so-called “smart meters” through 2023, giving customers more control of their electric costs. The new meters will be spread out throughout the electric service territory.
“There’s a lot of technology work that has to occur before even employing the meters,” Moehn said.
The announcement came on the same day Ameren Corp. announced its 2018 net income was $815 million, up from $523 million in 2017.
The increase was attributed to higher electric sales after a warmer summer and colder winter.
After years of failed efforts, the monopoly last year won a key battle in the Missouri Legislature that freezes base rates through April 2020 and caps average annual rate increases at 2.85 percent.
Consumer and business groups warned the legislation could make it easier for Ameren and other utilities to raise rates and reduce their incentive to control spending, which ultimately is charged to its customers. An analysis from state regulators says electric rates could increase by an extra 9.74 percent through 2028 due to the legislation.
In August, the company dropped its base rate by 6 percent, following the passage of the 2017 federal tax cut that reduced corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent.
On Thursday, Moehn said the utility’s 1.2 million electric customers will benefit from the work the company is planning.
“Customer expectations are increasing every single day. It’s such an essential service,” Moehn said. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
The Public Service Commission filing outlines how the company will work to improve reliability within its 24,000-square-mile service territory.
Among the highlights is a $1 billion expenditure on wind energy in 2020, as well as work to add more solar energy and battery storage in its distribution system.
The work also includes the installation of sensors and other equipment that can detect outages and speed restoration when service interruption occur. Ameren is touting technology called “self-healing lines” that will help limit or curtail outages.
Plans also call for the installation of 12,000 new utility poles that will be fortified to withstand severe weather.
Moehn said Ameren has already begun hiring employees to work on the various projects. A total number of jobs being created was not available.
“This is going to create thousands of jobs, both direct and indirect,” Moehn said.
The next step for Ameren is to hold a public meeting on the proposal. It is scheduled for March 4 in Jefferson City.