Ameren Illinois
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Ameren Illinois and Columbia Schnucks Store Leverage the Power of Partnership During Extended Outage

Nov. 16, 2023
Utility’s Economic Development team plays a pivotal role during storm recovery.

When severe storms leave a trail of destruction in their wake, the entire team at Ameren Illinois rallies to restore power — and a sense of normalcy — in the communities it serves. While lineworkers work on the front lines, the utility's Economic Development team plays a crucial role behind the scenes to help the utility’s largest customers navigate extended outages.

 Over a memorable Fourth of July weekend in 2023, the lines of communication between Ameren Illinois and its largest business customers were tested and held strong.

 Down and Out in Columbia
As the holiday weekend approached, a “derecho” with straight-line winds up to 100 miles per hour ushered in a series of storms that wreaked havoc across Ameren Illinois’ 43,700-square-mile service territory. In Southern Illinois, the entire town of Columbia was left in the dark — including the local Schnucks store.  

 Meanwhile, skies were sunny as Ameren Illinois Key Account Executive Matt Plocher vacationed in the Sunshine State. But as soon as he learned the severity of the damage back in Illinois, he immediately reached for his phone and began a weekend-long volley of texts with customers, including Schnuck Markets, Inc.

 “I had just found out that both 34-kV lines coming into Columbia were out. I was able to text Schnucks to tell them that they were going to be without power for quite some time,” recalls Plocher. “This was not going to be like the usual outage — this was going to be days, and they needed to know that.”

 While outages are never convenient for any customer, large grocery chains face the potential for large-scale loss of refrigerated and frozen food.

 “Our emergency generators only provide emergency lighting — no refrigeration,” says Nancy Meyers, Director, Facilities & Equipment Maintenance for Schnucks.  “When a power outage occurs, it is imperative that we know as soon as possible whether to order dry ice, pull all refrigerated products, order reefers (refrigerated trucks), or call teammates into pull cases.  Even just knowing that Ameren Illinois has dispatched a crew to assess the situation is vital to assuring no loss of product.”

Key Account Executives — Key to Communication
Providing helpful, timely information is all in a day’s work for the utility's Key Account Executives, who serve as the primary point of contact for matters ranging from the mundane, such as billing and meter readings, to long-term expansion plans.

 Having a point of contact is especially helpful during a power outage, so large businesses can make informed decisions to minimize the impact of the outage.

 “During an outage or emergency, my most important role is to be a direct line of communication with my customers. We are available 24/7 to answer questions about anything,” says Matt, who contacts Ameren Illinois dispatchers and field supervisors to find the answers he needs. “I don’t always have an answer, but I do whatever I can to try to get my customers an update. We work closely with our industrial customers to help them make informed decisions.”

 His efforts do not go unnoticed at Schnucks.

 “Matt Plocher gets bombarded by me personally with text messages during outages!  I know it's frustrating, but his support and updates are critical to our store teams. Even the smallest detail helps us make wise decisions from an operational perspective,” says Meyers. “Having a Key Account Manager serves Schnucks greatly, considering how much product loss we can incur with one store, one power outage.” 

 With continuous support and information from the Economic Development team, the Schnucks store in Columbia was able to recover as quickly as possible and return to what it does best: Nourishing People’s Lives.

 “Serving communities is our priority. We know that our customers are probably experiencing the same power outages we are, and it’s critical for them to have a haven to shop and support their needs,” says Meyers. “Knowledge and communication between Ameren Illinois and Schnucks is a strong asset during the most critical hardships.”  

Note: This story was written by Stacey Shangraw. 

Nourishing Their Community
Even without power, the Schnucks store in Columbia arranged a generous gesture to support the community and show weary lineworkers some love with a free lunch on Sunday, July 2.

 According to Nancy Meyers, Director, Facilities & Equipment Maintenance at Schnuck Markets:

 “Division Manager Steve Rennels, the Schnucks Columbia Market Place team and the Schnucks Community Kitchen really stepped up during a difficult time — especially with a store that had no power,” says Meyers, who worked with Key Account Executive Matt Plocher to extend the lunch invitation to line crews. “They banded together with several other stores to provide food, water and compassion. Our Columbia Market Place store was hit hard but we came back strong to the community!”

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