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City Council hears about need to expand power grid's capacity

Monday, November 22, 2010 | 9:48 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia officials want to make sure that there are no power outages in the city's future.

Employees from Columbia Water and Light and a consulting firm hired by the city, Sega Inc., spoke to the City Council on Monday about a proposed electric transmission project.

Tad Johnsen, director of Columbia Water and Light, said substations on the south side of Columbia are getting close to their maximum physical capacity, which could ultimately damage equipment and create power outages. Therefore, he said, there is a need for a new substation and transmission lines.

Though the public was unable to participate in the work session, more than 50 residents attended. Mayor Bob McDavid said there would be multiple hearings in the future at which the public could be involved in the discussion and ask questions about the project.

McDavid emphasized the need to articulate the importance of new power lines to the public, especially as the population continues to grow.

“I’m like everybody out there; when I hit the switch, I want the light to come on. ... I think you’re telling us that we’re not gonna have the guarantee of electrical service if we don’t upgrade,” McDavid said, referring to concerns expressed by Johnsen, Stephen Rodick of Sega Inc. and assistant Water and Light Director Ryan Williams.

City Manager Bill Watkins agreed, adding that the city needs to explain there are weaknesses in the current system that need to be addressed.

“We need to do something about the city’s power lines,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but we need to make a judicious decision, and we can’t put it off much longer.”

Williams said new transmission lines could be buried underground, though it would be up to five times more expensive. While 15 miles of overhead transmission lines are estimated to cost $7.5 million to $11.5 million, the same lines could cost $37.5 million to $56 million if buried.

Johnsen also said the the city could build transmission lines above ground in certain areas and underground in others.

Before the final transmission routes are selected, Johnsen said, there would be a final recommendation by the Water and Light Advisory Board and a public hearing before the City Council.

Art Morgan, the principal of Christian Chapel Academy, was one of the Columbia residents in attendance. He said that he came to the meeting because his school was near one of the proposed transmission lines.

“I wanted to have a greater understanding of the reasons for why new lines are necessary,” Morgan said. “I am hopeful that as the process works itself out, it can be beneficial for everyone involved.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley said that the work session was useful because it showed that new transmission lines were needed.

“There were much better details in this presentation,” Dudley said. “Proof was given for something that needs to be done."


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