Continue The Conversation – December 20!

We had energized conversations at our November 15 Community Commons.   You can read the notes taken during those conversations here.  These conversations will continue as we focus on how to move forward with specific actions during our 4th Community Commons,  December 20, 2016 from 7 to 9 pm at the offices of the Tribune.

The conversations on November 15 centered around two themes, Building Bridges and Citizen Centered Planning.  The group discussing how to build bridges among Columbia’s diverse groups reviewed progress made on ideas shared in prior conversations that related to how media coverage of minority communities might be improved. Student reporters, assisted by community mentors will soon be contributing stories to the Tribune. Other comments emphasized that although there is an interest in building bridges, there has to be a plan for doing so.  In December we will focus on how to follow-through with several ideas that have come up relating to fostering intentional gatherings of diverse people.  Those ideas will be listed for ease of review in the next post.

The group focusing on Citizen Centered Planning continued to address the themes of accountability and communication.  Several additional ideas for improving our processes for planning, maintaining, and building needed infrastructure were raised and will also be summarized in a future post. A group member who was new to the Community Commons commented that he was fascinated by the idea that we could have “a civil conversation on a difficult topic.”  It is those civil conversations between citizens that will help us move forward!

What were some take-aways from both conversations as expressed by the group?  These might be summarized as follows:  Listening is key, talk leads to action, and we will need ongoing engagement, creativity and follow-through to make change.

Working together, we can make a difference.

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, December 20, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Join Us November 15!

Our next Community Commons is next Tuesday, November 15 from 7 to 9 pm. We hope you can join us.

Post-election many citizens are asking, how can we find common ground and work together?  The Columbia Tribune’s “Community Commons” aims to help you do just that.

Discussion in September  highlighted several issues related to the themes in our community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?”  Looking at the themes of Inequity and Building Bridges, the October session  explored a wide range of topics, including  the need for more affordable housing, housing for the homeless, creating more economically diverse neighborhoods, bringing neighborhoods together through smaller celebrations and events, and providing more places where people can come together for dialogue.

Those interested in Citizen Centered Planning further explored the difference between “politicians and statesman”, and discussed the possibility of creating an easily accessible public dashboard that shows progress toward public infrastructure projects approved by voters.

Interested in exploring how we can bridge divides, address inequities, and put citizens at the center?  Join us on November 15!

During this session we will also be introducing a new dialogue format called the “Conversation Cafe” that you can easily transfer to your conversations with family, friends, and neighbors.  By talking and working together, we can make a difference

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Information and Misinformation – 2

Many comments made by those opposed to the transmission line route known as Option A centered on the appearance of poles – height, type of materials, diameter of base etc.

Talking with Connie Kaprowicz from Water & Light, we learned that these questions hadn’t been fully settled when progress on Option A was stopped by the City Council. To the contrary, questions of location and appearance were what public comment was being sought on.

We asked Connie the following questions:

1C1C: What decisions had been made about poles and pole placement when the Council put Option A on hold?

W & L: When the project was stopped by the City Council, we were at the 30% design phase of implementing Option A. This is the stage where we decide where the poles could be located and what type of poles should be used. We held an open house for the purpose of getting public input on proposed locations and pole types. We never got to the point that these details could be finalized.This quickly turned into an issue of whether we should build lines along Option A at all rather than the evaluation of proposed locations and pole types.

1C1C:  What are the different options for pole types?

W & L: There are a lot of different pole options as shown in these slides which were shown to the City Council on January 19, 2016 (slides 51-66 from Council presentation). Note that with the steel structures, the wires are higher above ground, guy wires are not required, and fewer poles are required along a route. If wood poles were used instead of steel poles, it would result in an increase of 55.9% in the number of poles compared to steel poles).

Here is a summary of key differences between construction with steel and wood poles:

Steel vs. Wood Overview

Steel Pole Construction

  • Engineered material; consistent, controlled properties
  • Reduced safety factors required
  • No height or span limitations
  • Self supporting angles and dead-ends
  • More flexibility during design
  • More flexibility during construction
Wood Pole Construction

  • Natural material; varying properties
  • Height & span limitations – more poles required
  • Angles & dead ends are not self-supporting; require down guys – more intrusion on properties/easements
  • Limited design adjustments during construction

 

Information and Misinformation – 1

As a community we want to make wise decisions about our infrastructure and our future.  Wise decisions require consideration of facts, needs, and consequences. On January 19 of this year, the City Council voted to  “pause”  the building of an electric transmission line and substation that had been approved by voters in 2015 and for which bonds had been issued. The Council has not announced when it will again review this “pause” nor has it talked much about how the pause is affecting economic development or our electric service.  City staff, however, recently announced that it is preparing a request to extend the moratorium on building downtown due to concerns with electric infrastructure.

We asked Connie Kaprowicz of Columbia Water & Light, who joined us in the August on-line Trib Talks forum, to help us understand some of the issues involved.

1C1C: When we look at past forums, new articles, and on-line comments, we seem to be talking about two things, the Mill Creek substation and the overall  transmission line. Can you explain why each is needed and how these inter-relate?

W& L: Electricity is generated at a power station or power plant from fossil fuels or renewable resources. Approximately 90% of Columbia’s energy comes from sources outside the city. Once the power is generated, it has to be moved to where it is going to be used. Large amounts of power are transferred with electric transmission lines. An interconnected network of transmission lines is commonly referred to as the power grid.

Transmission lines feed into substations. At substations, transformers step down the power to lower voltages. From there, power is delivered to individual electric customers by distribution lines.In the older sections of town, distribution lines are mounted on wooden poles. New distribution lines in Columbia must be placed underground according to city ordinances.

electric system diagram

1C1C: Does the Mill Creek Substation still need to be built even if the transmission line is built on a route other than Option A?

W & L: Yes, As noted above, the Mill Creek substation is needed due to the electric load growth in the southern area of town. Our other substations serving the area are loaded over the suggested amount. As we explained at our May work session presentation, electric systems must have reserved capacity for times of high loads and/or problems with the system such as those caused by storms. Both the Hinkson and Perche substations are overcapacity as shown in the chart below.

  • Substation loading goal: two transformers at 50%, three transformers at 66.6%
Year Grindstone (3*) Hinkson (3*) Perche (2*)
2007 41.5% 67.6% 61.8%
2010 44.7% 68.6% 64.4%
2015 48.6% 64.2% 72.0%

*number of transformers

1C1C: Suggestions were made in past forums and in Trib Talk that rather than building the Mill Creek substation, additions could just be made at another substation like Hinkson. You indicated in our August on-line forum that that was not a good option. Could you explain in layman terms why?

W & L: There is not room to expand the Hinkson Creek substation. Even if the University would sell us additional land, it is not the best site since it is prone to flooding. Even then we would still need to build transmission lines to get the power to where it is being used. That would involve running lines through the south side of town.

We have also already purchased the land for the Mill Creek substation which is in a better spot geographically to serve the southern side of town.

1C1C: You indicated in the August on-line forum that even if we went with the suggested alternate route for the transmission line, which has been dubbed “Option E”, additional transmission lines would still be needed on the south side of town. Can you say more about that?

W & L: Option A resolved two technical issues: One is providing a second feed into the Perche Creek substation and the other is to reduce substation loading (see info above). Option E, which was proposed by the Mayor at a council work session in May, 2016, addresses the issue of getting a second 161 kV feed to Perche substation. It does not address the need to reduce substation loading. There was no direction from the City Council on how they would like to tie the Mill Creek substation into the transmission and distribution system in the event that the transmission line route changed. So that issue would still need to be resolved.

1C1C: One of the ideas about Option E was that we might be able to place our lines on poles owned by Ameren UE and Associated Electric. What is the status there?

W & L: After the Mayor proposed Option E we first needed to do some modeling work. Modeling work evaluates any possible engineering problems that could impact the entire system so it is very time consuming. Think of it as looking at all the things that can happen during one minute of play during a team sport. There are many different possibilities and combinations of things that could present risk. After our modeling did not find any red flags, we sent our modeling work to our neighboring utilities to analyze and get back to us. We do not have a response yet from any of them. Once we do hear back from them, we could possibly do another work session with council to see if they want us to pursue Option E. We still need feedback on what to do about the Mill Creek substation.

1C1C: During our August forum at least one citizen suggested that we need not be concerned about delay in moving forward with these projects because the electric system didn’t shut down over the summer. Can you comment on that?

W & L: In our personal lives, living without electricity is hard. For businesses, it can impact their income and level of service to their customers. During the storm in 2014, the wooden 80’ tall transmission poles on Fairview snapped and it took some of the largest line trucks in the Midwest to repair them. The outage from this storm lasted for five days for some of the customers. Every situation is different when it comes to problems. Small transformers on distribution lines can be easily replaced. Damage or equipment failure at the substations could take weeks/months. That is why we plan for redundancy and reserves.

Think of a road system. When there is construction or an accident you have to detour. The electric transmission and distribution system should never be run at 100% because space is needed if we need to isolate a problem and serve customers from another line. Unlike traffic, electricity can’t get stuck in a traffic jam because overloading (heavy traffic) could cause cascading problems. This would be like what happened on the east coast in the early 2000s.

Reserves refers to having extra energy available to serve an unexpected peak. This is federally regulated as well. We have to show what our peak usage is and then secure extra energy resources beyond that. All of this a part of keeping the electric grid reliable.This summer we were close to a new electric peak but luckily it rained and a cold front moved in.

Transmission planning is complex and takes time. We first identified the need for this project in 2004 when our models indicated we would have issues with the system even under normal conditions by 2020, taking into account growth. At present, we could experience problems even before 2020, particularly if any element of the system is out of service (weather, malfunctioning equipment, etc). I personally do a lot of worrying during every storm and during periods of hot, humid weather when it doesn’t cool down much at night.

1C1C: In an earlier chat you mentioned that the  Average Electric Service Availability Index is 99.9876 for Columbia out of a hundred and that a drop in this could hurt our economic development efforts. Please expand on this. 

W & L: Our community has invested in our electric system since 1904 so it is reliable. Having a reputation of unreliable electric service is not a good thing when we seek new businesses in our community. Reliability is affected by a number of factors related production, demand from customers, and delivery. Many people don’t realize that unlike water or natural gas, electricity can’t be stored by utilities in large amounts (existing batteries for use with solar energy production are very expensive and can only store a small amount) . Electricity also does not run in one direction through a “pipe” like water or natural gas. Electrons move in different ways which is one of the things that makes electrical engineering a specialized and complex field. Businesses – particularly those that are energy intensive or, like medical facilities, that rely on equipment that is sensitive to fluctuations in power, – are concerned about both power quality (avoiding fluctuations in voltage) and availability on demand.

1C1C: Can you say more about “availability on demand”?

W & L: Because electricity can’t be stored, an electric utility has to provide the power needed at every minute of the day, even as the level of demand varies. Although the amount of electricity that the city needs over time is measured in kilowatt hours the level needed at any given time is referred to as “demand”. If everyone in Columbia, especially commercial customers with large equipment, turned on everything all at once for 2 minutes, we would have to meet that huge demand for those 2 minutes. Meeting that demand is not just a matter of producing the electricity – we have to deliver it as well. This means that our transmission and distribution systems must be robust enough to meet any spikes in demand at any given moment in time. Our ability to deliver is affected by both transmission and distribution constraints. In an ideal world, demand would be constant throughout every minute of the day. We don’t live in an ideal world, and that is why we have to build a system that can handle spikes in demand. Since large commercial customers and industrial customers demand can have a big impact on our system, they are charged a kilowatt hour charge (like residential) but they also have a separate demand charge. The following graphic will help you understand energy v.demand for our system.

1C1C:  Thank you Connie.  To our readers, continue to check this blog for more posts in this series! 

Improving Our Infrastructure – You Can Help!

We know there is a lot of interest in improving our infrastructure and how we as a community plan for the future.  Readers and dialogue participants alike have shared thoughts for how we might improve.  Consider the following comments posted by a reader to articles on the current transmission line controversy.

Something that might have helped prevented the emergence (or resurgence) or organized opposition to Option A was for the city to continue to have ongoing public forums and meetings that would have provided citizens opportunities to hear updates or to voice concerns. Too often what happens is the city is all about having public meetings and getting citizen input when projects are proposed (as they are legally required to do) but then once that process is overwith and projects are approved, all communication ceases. And then one morning, a resident wakes up to find that the city is about to plant a giant electric pole in his yard or clearcut all his trees. Nobody, but nobody likes these kinds of surprises. (Posted by “Ruckus” Jan. 31, 2016)

A different approach is needed then just holding interested party meetings or Ward Checkins. Perhaps take a cue from the Sewer Dept in which affected individuals along the routes are kept updated by periodic mailings with detailed information of project plans and progress, and provide the name of an actual contact person within W and L who is actually involved in the project who is a contact point for residents who have concerns or questions. This approach has seemed to work well for the Sewer Utility on the Private Common Collector Elimination projects. The engineer responsible for any given project is the contact point for residents/neighborhood associations. (Posted by “Ruckus” Feb. 1, 2016)

Do you have ideas of your own to share about how we might improve the way our community approaches its infrastructure issues? Join us September 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the offices of the Tribune (101 N. 4th St., enter on Walnut Street) for another citizen-led dialogue.

Share what’s on your mind and listen to others.

Real people, real dialogue.  Join in a conversation that matters.

We hope to see you tomorrow, September 20 at 7 pm.

The Transmission Line: Many Questions

Since the online forum on August 23rd, tax abatements have been approved for an upgrade of the Dana Light Axle Products facility, and the mayor has announced a new medical tourism initiative. Yet the issue of how we are going to meet the electric service needs of new industry or our energy intensive medical facilities remains stalled.

Our August 23 forum focused on “citizen-centered planning,” using as a case study the City Council’s decision to “pause” construction on the new transmission line while researching potential alternatives to the previously approved route (“Option A”). Citizens joining the August 23 forum raised questions about the costs of delay, the costs of potential alternatives, the costs incurred to date, the timeline for decision, and whether and how the public will be engaged in any future discussion of what is to be done.

As citizens in our past forums have observed, “People want to be informed.”  The council’s lack of discussion on a timeline, on the consequences of delay, or on the criteria for future decisions on this key issue, is not providing citizens with information they want and need.

Citizens at past forums made the following observations about how the city council approaches the issues of growth:

  • “they avoid the hard issues until those must be addressed;”
  • “They spend most of their time cleaning up messes rather than presenting clearly defined programs aimed at achieving goals;”
  • “They are always working in hindsight mode.”

We can’t meet our energy needs by talking about what “might work” or by simply hoping the whole uncomfortable issue goes away. If we are going to announce new initiatives intended to promote our economy, we should be discussing at the same time how the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to support both current and future needs. This applies not only to electric infrastructure but to sewers, water, and roads as well.

As Hank Waters said in a recent editorial:

After all these months of delay, the city council needs to get off the dime. It will never be rid of conflicting opinion on this issue. If the council has enough reason to abandon Option A, it should have the final stages of a lucid discussion and make another decision, but it will have to overcome the obvious arguments in favor of proceeding as planned.

In future posts we will further explore the issues of costs and process raised on August 23.

Join Us August 23

This Tuesday, August 23rd from 5 to 6 p.m. we will host our next on-line Trib Talks forum using the Cover It Live platform. We will focus on “citizen centered planning” using the current transmission line controversy as a case study.

You can review last Sunday’s article by Caitlin Campbell  for an up to date summary of the transmission line issue, and review past coverage or the  information page on the city website for even more information.

To participate in the forum, simply visit www.columbiatribune.com at 5 p.m. (or shortly before) Tuesday, click on the link and join in.

Can’t join us? Review the transcript on our archive page after the forum, or host your own dialogue and report back in!

Interested in Development? Town Hall Tomorrow!

Yesterday the City sent out a press release announcing there would be a town hall meeting on “the development code update project” tomorrow, Saturday morning, April 30 from 8 am to noon, at City Hall, 701 East Broadway, Conference rooms 1A-C.

Topics will include:

  • Proposed new parking requirements,
  • Development, redevelopment and sufficiency of services and
  • Form-based controls downtown.

The announced purpose for this event is to “assist interested persons with understanding the draft development code in preparation for the public hearing process which begins in May”.  While we commend the City for hosting this event we would also like your thoughts on how the process for informing and inviting the public on these key issues might be improved.

 

 

Join Us Thursday Feb 11 at 7 pm

Join us tomorrow evening for the Trib Talks forum “Are We An Us?’  The world-cafe style forum will be held at the ARC, 1701W. Ash St., at 7 pm. We will dig deeper into themes that emerged during our last session and our on-line forums.

These were citizen centered planning, addressing inequities, and building bridges.

What is citizen-centered planning?  One thing it involves is leadership that accurately informs citizens.  During our last forum citizens expressed a desire for the Trib to make it easier for them to track coverage on complex issues, like the current transmission line controversy.  The Trib has responded with a new archive on infrastructure issues.  Come and share additional thoughts on how our planning for growth might be improved.

There are many groups in Columbia working to address needs for food and shelter.  Affordable housing, and outreach through efforts like Project Homeless Connect have been in the news. Bring your ideas on what more might be done.

And over the last month uniting the diverse elements of our community has been a theme of many events – from the the city-sponsored diversity breakfast, to a unity concert, to a multicultural cooking class sponsored by the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Come and share your thoughts on how we might bridge our gaps.

Join us at the ARC and here on-line!

 

 

Citizen-Centered Planning

What is citizen-centered planning?  Our forums identified at least three factors:

  • Adequate notice and opportunities to be heard.
  • Opportunities for meaningful input.
  • “Reporting back.”

What is adequate notice and opportunity to be heard?  It includes reaching out to citizens in ways that get their attention and adequately inform them why input is needed.  Consider Dave Meslin’s Ted Talk “The Antidote to Apathy” for ideas on how this area of planning might be improved.  Ideas shared by our participants included more readable notices provided in a variety of formats, scheduling meetings at different times of day, and at accessible places served by public transit.

What makes for meaningful input?  This would include opportunities to help define the problems to be solved, not just comment on proposed solutions.  It includes timely provision of information — citizens should not be asked to a meeting and then told a 100+ page report has been issued just that afternoon.  It also includes efforts to help break down complex issues and provide information in context and formats that help citizens digest that information.  Boone County’s recently released Citizen’s Guide to County Finances is a good example of one effort to do just that.  “Meaningful input” also means that there is actually a possibility that the input will make a difference.  It is the opposite of what our participants described here:

“With the trash issue, the city asked for opinions, and then it appeared they were definitely going to use roll carts. At that point I stopped responding to surveys.”

“Was the city really “up in the air” about rollcarts, and wanting to gauge opinions, or were they trying to find out “If we do this thing, how many people will hate it?” I am being facetious but the perceptions were there that participation was meaningless.”

Reporting back simply means communication on what input was received, how it was used, the decisions made, and the reasons for these decisions.  Forum participants thought this was an area where significant improvements could be made.

Share your thoughts on “citizen-centered planning” in the comments. Where do you see it? What changes would you make?