The Trinity Public Utilities District Board of Directors was informed Thursday that while the cause of recent overload outages in Junction City has been sorted out, the entire district will need to keep upgrading in order to handle ever-increasing electrical loads on its system.
At its regular meeting Jan. 14, TPUD General Manager Paul Hauser explained that while it took longer than it should have to fix problems with the circuit that runs over Oregon Mountain into Junction City, “We do have a handle on the load issues on that circuit now.” He said equipment and setting changes were made to carry the load, and no more connections are expected.
“There might be one or two more services added, but we basically have a moratorium,” he said. “We just don’t have the ability to add big load to that circuit again.”
Apologizing for the subsequent outages experienced there this last month, Hauser added, “the way I associate it is it’s the growing pains associated with real, rapid load growth and we have to be on top of that better in the future, not just on this circuit, but on all of our circuits.”
When asked, Hauser said some equipment was upgraded and changed to accommodate extra load.
“That load slipped up on us,” he said. “It just grew a lot faster than we expected. We should have recognized this sooner and been more proactive in that work, but we are on top of it now.”
When Director Kelli Gant asked what equipment needed to be changed, Hauser said the Jan. 16 outage allowed workers to install larger regulators in order to maintain the proper voltage level.
“We need higher capacity regulators on that line,” he said, “so that’s an example of some of the equipment changes we have done — and are doing.”
Electrical Supt. Andy Lethbridge explained that at certain times of the day, the load exceeded 60 amps and caused a breaker to trip. He said settings were changed to 70 to handle the load without tripping the breaker.
Asked by Director Andy Johnson about blips, or quick interruptions in power in Junction City, Hauser said it’s been resolved.
“It was also a symptom of the problems we were having,” he said. Lethbridge noted that during any power issue, including when trees contact power lines, the entire line will be affected and customers will see it.
Planning for more
Further discussion about increased power loads came during the approval of a five-year planning study. According to staff reports, the goal of the five-year study is to develop a list of potential upgrades for the next five years that facilitate the best use of the system.
Hauser said the driving force behind the study is that the district is seeing huge growth again, which is bringing it closer to maximum capacity.
“High-impact load represents more than 15 percent of our revenue,” he said. “It’s come from zero a few years ago, so that is the driver for new load.” Hauser explained that the plan will assess and rank the work needed to inform future rate discussions. Fire-related and right of way expenses are one issue, but upgrading the system is the other.
He said the district currently has many requests for new services, most in areas where the district has no capacity.
“If we’re going to continue to serve these new loads… we’re going to have to expand the system,” he said, adding that the $87,000 cost of the planning study will inform the district what it needs to spend on expansion.
Hauser explained that the only alternative would be to declare expansion moratoriums on parts of the system, increasing to the entire system when it reaches capacity.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to turn away those customers that are growing our revenue,” he said. “We have to spend some money to allow more of them to hook up.” Noting that a “lot of people want to hook up,” Hauser noted that one project on the Junction City circuit “could be a $3 million project.”
He said an analysis could then show the cost to expand the circuit vs. the revenue it would generate, and would take three to five months to complete.
He noted the system is reaching the physical limits to deliver power but is within its hydropower allocation set by Western Area Power Administration.
Director Dick Morris noted that the system, which was designed for a residential load base, is now being used for higher commercial loads and asked who would have to pay for needed expansions and equipment.
“That is the rationale for the higher rate now that high-impact load customers pay,” Hauser replied. “If you remember, when we asked the board to adopt that, we said that very likely we would need to revisit that to true it up.” Hauser said the plan will help assure that those costs are applied appropriately across rate classes.
The board unanimously approved the study, at a combined cost of $116,268 for a coordination study and $87,255 for the five-year planning study.