New federal standards for reliable distribution of electricity are forcing the city to spend $3.5 million on a backup power line that will bisect property owned by MU and Lenoir Woods in southeast Columbia.
The standards, imposed by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, or MISO, give Columbia until June to have power coursing through the 161-kilovolt line to the Grindstone substation, which will run alongside one that carries 69 kilovolts, Water and Light Director Dan Dasho said.
MISO was initially created about six years ago as a regional transmission organization. Columbia joined the Indiana-based agency so that it would not have to pay an additional cost of $1.5 million per year to continue to use electricity produced by fellow MISO member Ameren. Additional costs apply to electricity exchanged between MISO members from non-members.
Dasho said MISO’s reliability standards require the new 161-kilovolt line. MISO spokesman Gary Rasp said those standards are intended to ensure “a safe and reliable flow of wholesale energy.” The standards arose out of concern about the integrity of the nation’s power grid after a massive blackout in 2003 left millions of East Coast and north-state residents without power.
Dasho said the redundancy provided by the new line will help ensure that power continues to flow into the city if one line or the other fails.
“Right now, there are only 69,000 volts,” Dasho said. “When we increase the voltage at Grindstone, it will allow us to serve more of an electric load and prevent outages.”
If the city were to fail to install the line by June, it would be required to provide the backup electric capacity by using what Dasho called inefficient natural gas turbines. Dasho predicted a $1.5 million to $3 million increase in cost for this summer alone if that were to occur.
One of MISO’s goals is to provide access to the lowest-cost generation that is available within physical constraints, Rasp said.
One of the problems that the creation of the power line faced was the location of its 115-foot poles. While MU agreed to allow the poles to be placed across its property, owners and residents of Lenoir worried the poles and wires would be an eyesore to their wooded area.
Paul Ogier, vice president of development and other services for Lutheran Senior Services, which owns the Lenoir property, said Lenoir is concerned about how people will perceive the property once the power line is installed. Ogier said Lenoir also hopes to expand its developments and worries that the transmission line will pose a threat to those plans.
The bill to allow the construction of the transmission line was tabled at the Jan. 17 City Council meeting to allow time for Water and Light officials to negotiate with Lenoir on a placement that would make the least impact. An agreement has already been reached. The poles will be placed very close to those that already exist for the 69-kilovolt line to minimize the visual impact.
Ogier said Lenoir negotiated with Water and Light for about two months, but proceedings had to move quickly because the lines needed to be up and running by June.
While Lenoir wasn’t pleased with any of the alternatives, Ogier said, it approved the one with the least impact.
The poles will be made of corten steel, which forms a light brown rust that gives the steel an earthy tone,Dasho said.
Ogier said Lenoir has been very appreciative of the efforts of Water and Light.
“We chose the best solution considering alternative options,” he said. “Columbia needs electricity.”