Prescott: Power line
makes financial sense By David Lias
Plain Talk It makes sense financially for Vermillion to construct a new, looped 115 kV power line from the Spirit Mound substation to the city. That's according to City Manager John Prescott, who presented details of the plan at a public meeting Wednesday night in the Vermillion City Library. Only a few people chose to brave sub-zero temperatures to listen to Prescott's presentation. It's a story, however, that the city manager has been telling to community groups throughout Vermillion for several months now. It will cost approximately $8 million, according to city estimates, to build the new power lines. The city will pay for this project by using $2 million of Light & Power reserves, and the balance of the project will be bonded and repaid over 25 years. On Tuesday, voters will decide whether the city should issue the bonds to finance the project. Rather than being a a drain on the city coffers, however, the new lines could actually be a significant revenue source, according to John Prescott. In May 2008, MRES (Missouri River Energy Services) announced a new program which would benefit the Vermillion transmission line project, he said. If member transmission facilities representing at least 300 MW are leased to MRES, they will make annual lease payments to Vermillion equal to 14 percent of the city's infrastructure investment, and approximately $7 million of the city's investment would qualify. "Without this agreement, building the transmission lines still has a positive return to the community," Prescott said, "of less than 15 years, There will be a positive return to the community over 40 years without the Missouri River Energy Services agreement, and if we have that agreement, it will be a $37 million savings to the community." The looped system is designed to be more a more reliable way for Vermillion to receive electrical power, he said. Currently, there is no redundancy of electric lines in the last quarter mile to the city, from South Dakota Highway 50 to the city's main substation. "With this proposal, there will be two separate power lines built from the Spirit Mound substation to the city substation," Prescott said. "There will be redundancy – a loop – throughout the whole system. The Spirit Mound substation also has two backup generators, and is fed from multiple sources. If for some reason there is a problem and the Spirit Mound substation wouldn't be receiving electricity, they would have the ability to generate their own through the backup generators at Spirit Mound." County Commission Chairman Leo Powell asked Prescott if the city has talked to Basin Electric about using the generators at the Spirit Mound substation as a backup power source. Prescott replied that a Western Area Power Association (WAPA) tariff requires Basin Electric to provide power to the city. Vermillion, he said, would pay a general lease for this service. Curt Johnson and Chris Girard asked about the potential problems that may be caused by designing the new looped system with two lines sharing a single row of power poles for the first quarter mile coming out of the Spirit Mound substation. In that quarter mile stretch, with the lines on one pole, "if one of those poles would go down, you'd be without power," Girard said. Harold Holoch, the city's utility engineer, said the new looped system must be designed that way. "When you are coming out of a source, you have to start together initially, and then you come apart," he said, describing how the two lines would then be looped on two separate rows of poles placed approximately one mile from each other. "If one of those poles breaks, or two of them, or whatever, how do you use the backup generators to switch around the problem?" Johnson asked, referring to the single row of poles carrying two lines that will exit the Spirit Mound substation. Prescott said the city currently faces the same vulnerability to power outages with its present system, referring again to a lack of redundancy. "It's the same situation we have right now," he said. "In October of 2006, the city was without power because there was work being done on the line between South Dakota Highway 50 and the city substation. There was no other way to feed the city because there was a single line along that stretch." Girard and Johnson asked Prescott and Holoch how the city would handle a problem with the poles leading from the Spirit Mound substation. "We would hire a company to do that, just like East River, in essence, is hired to do that," Prescott said. He added that there are several firms in area, in Norfolk, NE and Sioux Falls, that could make the necessary repairs. If voters approve the issuing of bonds later this year for the project, the city would let bids for the poles and wire later this year. The new looped system would be scheduled to be completed so that power could be delivered to the city from Spirit Mound substation immediately after Vermillion's contract with East River Electric expires at the end of 2010. If the bond vote isn't successful, the city council may look try selling bonds for a lesser or a greater amount, Prescott said, or perhaps continue talks with East River. Check Editor David Lias' blog at www.plaintalk.net for his views on Tuesday's bond election.