EFFINGHAM — Ameren Illinois has announced its upgrading Effingham’s electric grid.

The utility company announced on Monday that it is beginning a $2.7 million project to add a second transformer to the substation at the corner of Ford Avenue and Keller Drive in northwest Effingham. The project is expected to be completed by mid-May.

“We’ve been noticing the area in northwest Effingham for several years,” said Brian Bretsch, a spokesman for Ameren Illinois. “We’ve been noticing the area in northwest Effingham has been growing.”

The area around the substation, which includes the shopping district on Keller Drive and Ford Avenue has grown in recent years and officials with the city expect that growth to continue.

“That’s a growth area in our community,” said Effingham Economic Development Director Todd Hull. “With Outer Belt West, there will be development in the area.”

Hull also pointed to the Shenandoah subdivision as another area for potential growth. In the commercial district around the area, several projects, including the long-awaited Meijer location on Ford Avenue, are in the works.

“The City of Effingham is excited to learn Ameren Illinois is investing in upgrades to the electrical grid near Ford Avenue,” said Effingham City Administrator Steve Miller in a statement. “The city continues to grow, and Ameren Illinois is a valued partner in its success by providing reliable and efficient energy infrastructure to our residents and businesses.”

“It will add redundancy and resilience to the grid,” said Bretsch.

Substations, which are fenced-in areas holding electrical equipment that looks alien to a layperson, are responsible for lowering the voltage of electricity coming into an area. High voltages are good for transmission across long distances, but commercial and residential buildings need a much lower voltage.

Lowering the voltage is done by the transformers in substations and smaller transformers at the tops of some utility poles. Ameren Illinois’ addition of a second transformer to the substation near Ford Avenue will allow that substation to serve more customers in northwest Effingham, said Bretsch.

Having two transformers also allows the utility to handle outages in a new way.

“We’ll isolate that outage and reroute,” said Bretsch. “Instead of a prolonged outage for several hours, we’re able to reroute.”

The project should not affect customers’ service or future pricing, according to Bretsch.

This is part of a broader initiative at Ameren Illinois to “modernize its energy delivery system,” according to a press release from the company.

The push for modernization began in 2012 when the state passed legislation incentivizing grid upgrades. The law, called the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, authorized $3.2 billion in grid upgrades toward a so-called “smart grid” system, among other provisions.

Ameren Illinois claims the improvements so far have reduced outage times by 16% and improved reliability.

“The upgrades are part of our overall statewide plan to build a cleaner, greener, more resilient grid,” said the utility’s Director of East Region Electric Operations, Dave Walters, in a statement. “With these enhancements, Ameren Illinois is taking proactive steps to prepare for the future needs of our electric customers. We’re excited to bring these enhancements to our customers in Effingham.”

Ameren is one of three electric utilities in the state of Illinois and it serves almost all of Illinois south of Interstate 80. Ameren Illinois delivers electric service to 1.2 million people across more than 1,200 communities in Illinois.

Grid reliability has been discussed widely in the wake of large-scale blackouts in Texas due to severe winter weather. Bretsch said this project has been in the works for some time and is not connected to the situation in Texas.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “D+” rating for energy infrastructure in 2017, citing aging equipment throughout the country and “capacity bottlenecks” as more demand for electricity increases.

A 2020 report from the same group analyzing differences in spending and projected needs in the energy industry revealed disparities in investment needs among different U.S. regions. The West, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have the largest “investment gaps” while the Southeast and the Southwest had the smallest. The Midwest will require “modest” increases in energy investment in the next 20 years.

In 2020, Ameren Illinois partnered with the City of Effingham to upgrade the city’s streetlights to more energy efficient LED bulbs.

Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com