- Illinois regulators have approved Ameren's voltage optimization plan, which aims to reduce energy consumption and system losses by operating the grid at lower voltages.
- New, cost-effective sensors, controls and communication systems now allow utilities to maintain lower voltage levels than they previously could.
- The decision was cheered by several consumer advocates, which had pressed for assurances that Ameren would prioritize its optimization efforts in low-income communities to reduce monthly bills.
In order to provide reliable service to all customers on a line, utilities tend to operate on the high end of acceptable voltage levels. While that maintains service reliably, it also means more lost energy. But with the advent of more advanced monitoring equipment, Ameren says it can safely maintain the lower voltage and operate its grid more efficiently.
In testimony filed along with its January application, Michael Abba, director of smart grid integration and system improvement for Ameren, said the plan's total implementation budget would be $122 million over seven years, "based on a high-level review and engineering analysis of 1,047 cost effective circuits to deploy."
Approval by the Illinois Commerce Commission followed an agreement reached among several parties, including the utility, Environmental Defense Fund, the Citizens Utility Board, Natural Resource Defense Council and commission staff. The parties agreed on methods and a timeline for measuring results, and secured assurances that Ameren will prioritize lowering voltage on electric lines in low-income communities.
The plan "represents a big step forward on efficiency, especially for those who stand to benefit the most,” Christie Hicks, senior attorney for EDF, said in a statement. Voltage optimization can help reduce energy waste, lower bills and help the environment, she said.
Toba Pearlman, a staff attorney at NRDC, acknowledged that "most people have likely never heard of voltage optimization," but called it a "simple and cost-effective solution."
The groups say Ameren's plan exceeds the voltage optimization requirements established by the Future Energy Jobs Act, passed by Illinois lawmakers in 2016.