PUC gets review of future power needs

NEW ULM – A study of New Ulm’s electrical system concludes that New Ulm could be facing peak summer electrical demand nearly 50 percent greater than today’s average demand.

DGR Engineering recently completed the electric system study and 20 year capital improvement plan for the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission.

The study, presented at the PUC’s meeting Tuesday, looks at the city’s current system configuration and loading, projects for future needs and informs staff of potential shortcomings in the system. It has been 10 years since the previous system-wide assessment. Jarrod Luze with DGR Engineering gave the presentation on its findings.

The review determined the city experiences peak electrical load in the summer months due to increased use of air conditioning. On average, the summer peak electrical load is 44.9 MW. The highest peak demand in the last ten years was in 2011 with 48.5 MW.

Based on expected growth to New Ulm over the next 20 years, DGR estimated that by 2037 New Ulm could expect a peak electrical demand of 63 MW.

Luze said this was an estimate based on current figures. This could change based on improvements in technology or a greater usage of alternative powers sources.

DGR is recommending some upgrades to the city’s electrical system to match the growth anticipated. The study found New Ulm already had some deficiencies. The north side substation experienced low voltage and circuit overload.

The city has 6.7 miles of transmission lines. Some of this system was created in the ’80s and ’90s and would need to be replaced with the next 20 years. About a mile of transmission network was from the ’60s and would need to be replaced sooner.

In terms of physical issues, electrical poles along the east side transmission line near the Minnesota River have significant damage due to woodpeckers.

DGR provided a summary of capital improvement projects (CIP) to upgrade the system. The total estimated cost of the 20 year capital improvement project was $19.5 million.

DGR recommended the PUC adopt the CIP and open communications with Xcel Energy soon to begin the planning and feasibility analysis necessary to move forward with the project.

One of the proposed projects called for the construction of 5.5 miles of transmission line from an existing steel pole on the east side of New Ulm to the south side substation. This project would help created a closed loop electrical system in New Ulm, which would reduce power outages, but it would also eliminate the need to rebuild the existing lines that were damaged by woodpeckers.

Following the presentation, the PUC commission authorized City Manager Brian Gramentz to accept and sign the proposal from DGR Engineering for the development of a feasibility study of options to rebuild the east side transmission line.

Dan Pirsig, with the city’s Electric Distribution Department, said the costs to rebuild the east side transmission lines damaged by woodpeckers had escalated beyond the original $650,000 budgeted. The current cost estimate is $1.1 million and this does not improve the system, it simply keeps the system at the status quo.

Pirsig said staff is recommending the repair efforts be put on hold to give DGR a chance to find an alternative options for repairing the lines. It is hoped that an alternative option could meet multiple needs rather than simple repairing the damaged poles. This would also reduce the 20 year capital improvement project estimate by $1 million.

In other news, the New Ulm Public High School applied for and received a grant through New Ulm Public Utilities. The grant request $4,000 to help educate the students on renewable energy, specifically solar energy. The grant could be used to install solar panels at the high school green house and combined this project with a new curriculum.