City’s electric infrastructure preparing for future

Clip Note: This article is from the Jan. 9, 2006 edition of Public Power News. I served as a freelance correspondent for a little over a year. The story demonstrates my ability to write for a specific audience (public power customers and advocates), breaking down technical jargon and producing readable copy. The marketing objectives of the publication were met by explaining to customers how investments into updated power infrastructure can improve service reliability and pricing, as well as open opportunities for economic development.

By Paul A. Miller, PPN Correspondent

Painesville’s municipal electric system is looking to the future.

To keep its infrastructure in reliable and prepared for future growth, the city will be doing a feasibility study for a new substation. According to Gary Fairbanks of the Painesville electric distribution department, increased electric load and the demand for more circuits have made the substation something the city needs to consider.

“Our current substation is maxed out,” he said.

Painesville City Manager Rita McMahon noted the substation is part of a larger plan to improve the electric system for present and future customers.

“We completed a system-wide load analysis (in 2004),” she said. “Last year and now this year we’ve been looking at that, and realized the need for a second interconnect with FirstEnergy and also the need for a second substation.”

Recently, when Painesville annexed property, the municipal electric system needed to extend lines to the area – a work still in progress, Fairbanks explained. The new substation will make room for the added load and the increased number of circuits needed to assure reliability and allow flexibility when work is being done on the system.

“The current substation is on the east side,” he said. “This will free up load on the west.

“We have an old transformer and a new one in the (present) substation,” Fairbanks continued. “We want to put in a new, bigger transformer for backup there, and put the old transformer in the new substation.”

“We’re also looking at the circuit systems as we make improvements,” added McMahon.

The work will improve reliability for the whole system, Fairbanks said.

“We’ll have more reliability because of more capacity for switching,” he stated.

Larry Marquis, AMP-Ohio’s vice president of business and technical services, described the process of checking the infrastructure of a municipal electric system.

“Part of our job in the business-technical services department is to do reviews of systems,” Marquis explained.

“We check out the condition of the system. We look at load growth and load flows.”

These assessments are important to be certain the infrastructure can handle problems which may develop.

“For example, when lightning strikes a circuit, you want fuses in place to minimize the damage to the system and to protect people and property,” Marquis said.

The infrastructure of a municipal electric system is not static, according to Marquis. Changes can come from technological improvements as well as through growths and shifts within the community itself.

“Part of our job is planning,” he stated. “We take a long-term planning approach to a distribution system. We try to assess what the growth may be and where.

“We want to plan a distribution system so it will be able to answer the new needs which may come along in the future.”

One of the most visible pieces of infrastructure for any municipal electric distribution system is the substation. Marqis said his department works closely with municipal systems to plan substations which answer both present and projected needs.

“We do a review of the load, working with the community involved to find and purchase the equipment which is large enough for the need,” Marquis said.

A key factor in planning and building a substation is the capacity for backup when specific elements fail.

“Redundancy is crucial for reliability,” said Marquis.

Acting with the community, AMP-Ohio’s business and technical services department also helps determine a site most suitable for new equipment such as a substation. Design can also be done in tandem. Placement of the additions also involves “behind-the-scenes” efforts such as acquiring permits and ordering parts and pieces which allow the installation to be completed and tied in to the larger municipal system. Finally, once built, the new equipment is energized and tested.

Marquis said depending on the size of the new equipment and the community involved, local crews make do all of the work, part of the work – or the work may be bid out to professional electric services. In many cases, Marquis’ department will manage the contractor or contractors involved.

For Painesville, the goal is to have reliable power for customers.

“We want to make sure we have the pieces in place for growth,” said McMahon.