Ameren Missouri, the largest investor-owned utility in the Midwestern state, has filed a $7.6 billion grid modernization plan that includes smart meters for its nearly 1.3 million customers by 2025, adding nearly 700 megawatts of wind power, plus more solar and battery storage systems to boost rural reliability. 

Ameren’s “Smart Energy Plan,” filed Wednesday with the Missouri Public Service Commission, will direct most of its spending — $5.3 billion, on top of $1 billion spent last year — toward replacing aging poles and wires, undergrounding high-priority circuits, and other infrastructure improvements. A subset of that funding will go toward more advanced grid controls, such as sensors and switches to sectionalize circuits and reduce the scope of power outages. 

The plan also includes rolling out networked electric and gas meters from Landis+Gyr, the first big advanced metering infrastructure deployment in the state. Ameren has experience with smart meters and other smart grid investments in Illinois, which mandated them nearly a decade ago. The utility expects to install 120,000 smart meters this year and more than 800,000 by 2023, along with web portals to give customers access to the energy data they collect.  

Missouri's lagging wind market

Unlike most utility grid modernization plans, however, Ameren Missouri’s plan also includes $1 billion for wind power. Ameren first outlined its goal in 2017 to acquire 700 megawatts of wind by the end of 2020, and has lined up two projects it hopes to acquire by year’s end, at a cost of about $1.2 billion. 

Missouri is a laggard when it comes to wind energy compared to other Midwestern states, with less than 1 gigawatt in operation — compared to more than 5 gigawatts in neighboring Illinois, 8 gigawatts in Oklahoma and 10 gigawatts in Iowa.

Unsurprisingly, Ameren trails far behind a number of other Midwestern utilities in tapping the region's low-cost wind resource. Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy in Iowa, for example, served nearly half of its customers’ power needs in 2018 from its 6,500-megawatt wind fleet. 

About half of Ameren Missouri’s existing 10.3-gigawatt generation fleet comes from coal-fired power plants, while natural gas makes up about a quarter more, and nuclear power one-tenth. Hydropower provides about 800 megawatts, and its only solar facility, the O’Fallon Renewable Energy Center, has a 5.7-megawatt nameplate capacity. 

Transmission challenges

Like its Midwestern brethren, Ameren Missouri is struggling with the transmission capacity needed to bring this wind power to markets. In July,  Ameren canceled a deal with EDF Renewables to develop a 157-megawatt wind farm as part of its broader wind plans after finding that the transmission upgrades would cost too much for its ratepayers.

Its remaining two wind projects, including up to 400 megawatts in Adair and Schuyler counties to be built by Terra-Gen, and up 300 megawatts to be built in Atchison County by Invenergy, have received approval from Midwest grid operator MISO at costs that “were in-line with expectations,” the utility said. Final interconnection agreements are expected this fall. 

As for its solar ambitions, Ameren Missouri has set a goal of 50 megawatts by 2025 and 100 megawatts by 2027. It’s also seeking regulator permission to spend $68 million on three solar-battery pilot projects, each linking 10 megawatts of PV to several hours' worth of battery storage for communities served by single transmission lines that can experience long power outages.  

Ameren Missouri has set a goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, pushing it beyond Missouri’s meager renewable portfolio standard of 15 percent by 2021. It’s not the only utility to do so. Earlier this month, Evergy, the 1-million-customer utility serving Missouri and Kansas, announced plans to cut carbon emission by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050, in line with the Paris climate accord.