AMONG ELECTRIC UTILITIES AND THEIR OWNERSHIP organizations, some serve extensive geographies and therefore become more involved in high-voltage transmission, moving large quantities of electricity from points of generation to load centers within their service areas, as well as transmitting electricity to other areas on a market basis.
A good example of one such utility organization is St. Louis-based Ameren Corp.
Ameren maintains and operates more than 7,000 circuit-miles of transmission lines in Missouri and Illinois, coursing across the sprawling service territories of its four electric utilities: AmerenCILCO, based in Peoria, Ill.; AmerenCIPS, based in Springfield, Ill.; AmerenIP, based in Decatur, Ill.; and AmerenUE, with the “UE” standing for longtime electric utility Union Electric in St. Louis.
But perhaps even more important is the fact that Ameren is a highly influential and active member organization within MISO—the Midwest Independent System Operator, headquartered in Carmel, Ind. (a north Indianapolis suburb).
MISO includes utilities among its large membership roster that collectively operate in a total of 11 states—and MISO exercises nominal, “functional” control of member organizations’ assets across a huge geographic footprint from Ohio in the east to the Dakota/Montana plains in the west.
So Ameren plays a critical role as a midcontinent transmission linchpin.
Singular control across all four
“Among Ameren’s four utilities, we operate their transmission as a single, integrated whole,” said Maureen Borkowsky, Ameren Services Co. vice president of transmission. “We have a single control center that operates the transmission of all four of our utilities together.
“And even before Ameren became ‘Ameren,’ and acquired the three utilities in Illinois, we always had connections among ourselves. In fact, Ameren—next to AEP—was one of the most interconnected utilities in the country.
“At one point, before we and others around us started buying other companies, we actually had interconnections with 23 different utilities—which is pretty impressive. And, of course, in part it’s because of our geographic location in the center of the country.”
It is therefore easy to understand why Ameren’s membership in and interaction with MISO provides foundational transmission infrastructure for both local and cross-continent movement of electricity.
“What the Midwest ISO basically does is monitor the flows on the system, the reliability of the system, the system loadings,” said Borkowsky. “And it can use the generation in its footprint to manage the flows by reducing or increasing generation in certain areas.
“We coordinate closely with MISO. We, too, are monitoring the loadings and the flows, as well as the voltages and the system frequency on our transmission system. So it’s kind of a ‘partnership’ in that regard.”
Among the results of the close monitoring of transmission by MISO and its member utilities, hiccups in transmission are usually dealt with and remedied quickly and efficiently, without trauma or often even knowledge on the part of customers.
“Any kind of disturbance or contingency that happens anywhere within the entire Eastern Interconnection [from the Atlantic Ocean all the way west to the Rocky Mountains], we all experience it in some way or another, either due to system frequency or if a line goes out, basically the flow on that line, then, shifts to the other lines in the network,” Borkowsky said. “Regardless of who ‘owns’ them, it basically follows the laws of physics in terms of where the flow on those lines is going to move to—to adjust and keep the system in balance.”
Effectively and efficiently accommodating new generation, largely in the form of renewables—especially wind—is a challenge the utilities and MISO are working diligently to meet. With more than 7,500 megawatts (and rising) of generated wind power within MISO’s footprint, making maximum use of renewables is a priority.
Transmission’s early smarts
And as “smart” electrical devices continue to develop and evolve, transmission systems are generally early adopters.
So with these things in mind, could transmission operations take a page from distribution in the area of “self-healing” or reconfiguration of circuits to avoid outages?
“It’s actually kind of the other way around,” said Borkowsky. “We’ve had ‘smart’ devices on the transmission system for a long time. From my control center, in many instances a guy sitting at a computer console can operate breakers and switches that are out on the transmission system.
“Now, sometimes we actually do have to call a guy up and have him go out there. But there has been a lot of development on the transmission side in the way of ‘remote operations.’ We do have some of this out there, too—where you can set certain tolerances, and the devices will operate on their own—and, obviously, for system protection, which has been out there for a long time.
“But with the newer technology, the idea would be to have the systems intelligent enough to kind of do their own load balancing, and to manage the system in a way that’s safe, reliable and secure.
“And there’s quite a bit of technology out there on ‘new’ transmission. The older transmission lines—as their devices age and are replaced, more of that newer technology is being installed, but certainly as more investment in new transmission occurs, the smarter and smarter the system becomes.”