The most recent consultant hired by the City, Siemens, has once again affirmed what has been reported on this blog over the last few years – new investment in our transmission and distribution infrastructure is overdue. Substations are overloaded, there are feeder lines that have no adequate back-up at times of system peak, and certain neighborhoods, as well as our wastewater processing facilities, lack back-up in the event of an outage (See e.g., pp. 17-20, 53-54, 56, 60, 77, 130, 107, 114-120, 130, 154, 175-176, 183, 186, 190).
Water & Light told us that new investment was needed back in 2013 when it first proposed the new transmission line known as Option A and the Mill Creek substation. But after that line was approved by voters, bonds issued and work begun, the City Council “paused” that work, without an alternate plan in place. In the almost five years since that pause was put in place, the risks of service interruptions and outages has steadily increased. During that same period, we have spent over $500,000 in consulting fees* to confirm what Water & Light told us, and what politicians denied. New investment is now urgently needed.
The Siemens plan, which was prepared for the council-appointed Integrated Electric Resource Master Plan Task Force, confirms the urgent need for new investment. And it reviews numerous options for that investment — new lines, new transformers, battery storage, etc. However, it avoids any straightforward comparison with the paused option. Despite the lack of that comparison, it does appear that we will pay more for these options than we would have paid had we completed the paused line.
How much more will we pay? We may never know. That question simply wasn’t asked by the Integrated Electric Resource Master Plan Task Force that commissioned the report. And what might be the best way to engineer our system for safety and reliability, and provide the highest value to those of us who pay for service? The Task Force didn’t ask that either.
If you agree that politicians should be accountable, and that the costs of their decisions should be clearly documented for the public, you can provide feedback to the Task Force at: online comment form.
*(Quanta – $97,500, Burns & McDonnell – $95,000, and Siemens $358,000).
The following public comments related to Part 2 of the Siemens report were provided to the Task Force: The Siemens study further confirms what CWL has been saying for several years: that the local transmission and distribution networks are in need of new investment. It also confirms, that as a result of Council’s ill-considered decisions to “pause” that investment, the system has deteriorated. Many lines/substations are overloaded, and immediate changes are needed, particularly at the Perche Creek substation.
Unfortunately, the Siemens transmission study fails to provide the public the necessary information to evaluate what are the best choices at this time to ensure reliable and cost-effective electric service. This is because it fails to do any analysis of the “paused” option, known as “Option A” (Mill Creek station and transmission line) against the investments it does recommend. The key question the Siemens report appears to answer is “can we come up with some changes that will address immediate concerns while avoiding a new substation at Mill Creek?” It avoids a comparison with Option A largely by introducing a “spatial load forecast”, which while well done as an academic exercise, is largely irrelevant. It is difficult under the best of circumstances to predict where new development will occur. And Siemens admits it did not have certain kinds of data and so substituted assumptions correlating likely growth to empty lots (p. 33). The Mill Creek substation option is then dismissed as not being ideally correlated with the model’s predictions for growth (p. 18) (elsewhere the report acknowledges a need to upgrade infrastructure in the Southwest, limits its focus to a single area, proposes an alternative substation just to serve that area, dismisses Mill Creek as being further away from the limited focus area, and then dismisses the alternate substation as likely to be underutilized – p. 55). What the report fails to do is look at how Option A would have solved the many issues identified in the report on a system-wide basis. And so there is no comparative benefit/cost analysis that would allow for an analysis of Option A as compared to the alternative investments outlined in the report. Another portion of the report that addresses a transmission event is heavily redacted and so can’t be reviewed. I would like to know though whether Option A, had it been completed, may have alleviated the risks that materialized.
The best approach, both for reliable electric service and economic development, would seem to be to plan for a robust, resilient, system capable of supporting growth wherever it occurs. Option A was designed to strengthen the system at a cost far lower than the projected costs here. In particular, it was designed to meet the challenges posed by existing growth in the Southwest. Not only are the costs of the alternatives outlined in the Siemens study higher, the expensive 4 hour battery storage back-up option for the residential neighborhoods south of Perche Creek (58% higher – p. 215) does not provide the same standard of reliability that Option A would have or that other neighborhoods enjoy by having more than one interconnection into the system. Option A also was presented as having a 40 year period of benefits; this apparently more expensive plan seems to have a 20 year horizon.
The public is not well served by avoidance of questions of how much the delay has cost us, or whether changes in circumstances might support a different plan (and what those are). To the extent the Siemens analysis avoids these issues, it is deficient. I again refer to the Task Force’s failure to adequately engage the public, addressed in the Part 1 comments above. Much more could have been done (and in fact was done in educating the public on Option A) to help the public understand and be engaged in the choices before us. Unfortunately, political decisions sidetracked progress several years ago. It is past time to take politics out of the process, to be open and honest with the public, and to return the planning focus to how to best engineer our system for safe, reliable, and cost-effective service. That requires a fair presentation and evaluation of all of the options, including the one that was “paused.”
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