Over the past half decade, Illinois utilities have spent billions on building out a smarter, cleaner and more efficient power grid.
While the changes are not without controversy, utilities say reliability has improved while average customer bills have remained flat.
The state’s’ two largest utilities, ComEd and Ameren – along with rural cooperatives throughout the state – have installed millions of smart electric meters, deployed thousands of intelligent power switching devices, launched a handful of new pricing programs and dipped their toes into other emerging energy systems and technologies.
For ComEd and Ameren Illinois, the ambitious experiment in grid modernization stems largely from state legislation passed in 2011 that reformed the utility rate structure and required both utilities to make significant upgrades to aging power infrastructure.
Since beginning to implement the upgrades in 2012, ComEd says it has avoided 7.6 million outages and generated $1.4 billion in societal savings.
“These investments, along with our unrelenting focus on providing exceptional customer service have led to best reliability on record, with the fewest and shortest power outages ever experienced by ComEd customers,” Anne Pramaggiore, president and CEO of ComEd said in a statement. “The smart grid program also has supported thousands of jobs and development in our communities. It has laid the foundation and set Illinois on a path to a smart, lean, custom, and reliable energy future – that’s what our customers want and deserve.”
While the smart-grid buildout has been largely free of controversy, not everyone sees the digitization of the grid in such positive terms. Some worry about the project’s hefty price tag and what it might mean for electricity bills in years to come. Security and privacy concerns are inherent to any system that is by definition increasingly interconnected and decentralized.
A small percentage of consumers object to the proliferation of smart meters out of health concerns, despite a considerable body of scientific evidence that suggests smart meters pose no significant risk to human health.
In a state grappling with a gridlocked general assembly, quiet progress on the state’s power grid is a rare bright spot. Last January, GridWise Alliance ranked Illinois No. 2 behind California in its annual ranking of all 50 states in terms of progress on grid modernization. The passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill last December, which takes effect this June, is expected to further expand investments in the state’s power system.
“Illinois has had a good track record of dealing with these issues professionally and [of] making progress,” says David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which advocates on behalf of Illinois ratepayers. “I think there are things that we wish obviously would be changed, but when you compare where we were in the late ’80s into the early and mid ’90s to where we are now, it’s an unqualified success – even though it’s not perfect.”
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