Illinois Electric operates and maintains roughly 3,000 miles of electric distribution lines serving five counties, including Calhoun County. As a distribution cooperative, we don’t generate our own power, we purchase it from another cooperative called Prairie Power. Prairie Power serves Illinois Electric, as well as nine other distribution cooperatives in Illinois. At Illinois Electric, we take delivery of power at twenty substations sites scattered throughout our service territory. Prairie Power owns these substations. Two of these substations are located in Calhoun County, one near Hardin and one near Brussels. Prairie Power also owns the transmission lines providing power to all twenty substations, including the two serving Calhoun County. These transmission lines are all interconnected, except for a small section of line that runs between the Hardin and Brussels substations. This section is isolated from the rest of Prairie Power’s transmission system and is energized through a connection with Ameren.
There are inherent problems with having two substations isolated from the rest of the grid serving our coop. One issue is the fact that we are dependent on Ameren to provide power as well as repair problems when they occur. This isn’t the case with the other eighteen substations. As a member of Prairie Power, they consider it their responsibility to serve Illinois Electric at a high level, much in the way we at Illinois Electric strive to provide the best possible service to you, our members. If Ameren experiences an outage in Calhoun County, we have no control. We must wait until they have service restored. If a transmission outage occurs elsewhere in our service territory, we work alongside Prairie Power to solve the problem. Although Ameren will do its best to restore service during outages, there is nothing we can do to expedite the process.
Another issue with having the Calhoun substations isolated is that they are “electrically out of phase” with the other Prairie Power substations. All of our substations are interconnected through Illinois Electric’s distribution system. Because of that, we can “back-feed” from one sub to another as needed. This is a definite advantage when performing system maintenance, or restoring service during outages. Those served through Prairie Power’s transmission system are “electrically in phase,” meaning they can be “paralleled” or interconnected while still energized, significantly reducing outage time. Those that receive power from Ameren, the Hardin and Brussels substations, are electrically “out of phase” with the rest of our substations. Because they are “out of phase,” we must de-energize from one source before we can re-energize from another, increasing the amount of time you are out of power.
Over the past several years, Prairie Power has substantially improved its transmission system. One project they are currently working on is the Eldred to Meppen Project. This project was initiated to connect the transmission system in Calhoun with the rest of Prairie Power’s system, and alleviate the problems mentioned above.
Eldred to Meppen is a rather ambitious project that includes a new substation just south of Meppen and a river crossing at Hardin. Once the project is complete, we will serve Calhoun County from a much-improved transmission system that has undergone extensive upgrades in recent years. If we do experience transmission outages, we will be more in control of our own destiny. We can work with Prairie Power to restore service rather than depending on Ameren. It will also give us greater flexibility operationally, which will lead to better reliability for our members in Calhoun County. We are excited that Prairie Power has prioritized this project. Illinois Electric has also made substantial investments in our distribution system throughout the county, rebuilding the vast majority of our main feeders, as well as many single-phase taps.
Our fiber-to-the-home project in Calhoun County will also help improve our electric system. Approximately 20% of all poles need replacing as we expand our fiber network. Most replacements are due to clearance issues, but we also replace any poles that are near the end of their useful life. Coupling all our efforts with those of Prairie Power, the transmission and distribution systems serving Calhoun County will be in the best condition since the existence of our co-op, providing safe and reliable electricity to the families we serve.