Plans to extend an electric transmission line to serve a new substation at St. Charles Mercy Hospital are at an impasse, according to Trent Smith, regional president of Toledo Edison.
Smith, who spoke at an Oregon council meeting on Oct. 26, said the stalemate is due to the city’s desire to have poles and lines that are aesthetically appealing, which increases the cost of the project.
The city had initially preferred an underground line, but it was later deemed too expensive.
Steel poles, which don’t have the unsightly guide wires that wood poles have for support, were also expensive.
“In my years of working for First Energy and Toledo Edison, this is one of the more challenging projects that we have come across,” said Smith. “When I say we, I mean the city, Toledo Edison as well as St. Charles,” said Smith. “There’s been a great amount of teamwork, a great amount of communication. Unfortunately, we have reached a little bit of an impasse.”
The need for a substation at St. Charles is governed by one of Edison’s tariffs, explained Smith. “When a customer uses up to a certain amount of power, then they are required to take electricity service at a higher voltage.”
In March, 2008, Edison moved forward with an agreement with the hospital to design and build a transmission line for the new substation, said Smith, to accommodate an increase in demand for electricity. Discussions with the city started in the fall of 2008.
“At that time, we had a goal of having the work completed, and the substation energized by April, 2009.”
Edison’s engineers worked with the city and the hospital to come up with the best design “to get between Point A and Point B,” he said.
A cost was established to construct the project.
“As our tariffs dictate, once that cost is derived, the customer pays 40 percent of the construction cost, and Toledo Edison absorbs 60 percent of the cost. So there was an agreement with St. Charles for that design,” he said.
In July, there were discussions about possibly installing underground lines instead of overhead lines.
The cost, though, was steep.
“It is in the interest of all rate payers to hold our costs down and choose the most economical option that’s reasonable to serve customers,” said Smith. “As we talked about underground options and all that goes with that, it’s a very expensive option, millions of dollars over and above the route that was already designed. We talked through that, understanding that there’s a premium construction involved. We are required to ask for those dollars from the customer. We all met and decided maybe that was a little excessive. What else could Toledo Edison do for the aesthetics of this line extension? At that point, we explored steel poles. There was a premium involved of about a half a million dollars, to go beyond what was already designed, and go to a premium service of all steel. I met with St. Charles and reviewed that with them, met with your administration, and talked about that as well. The impasse has occurred in that we need someone to pay the money. It’s that simple.”
The city has provided a permit to Toledo Edison to proceed with construction of all steel poles, he said.
Smith said he understands the position of all the stakeholders of the project.
“I understand the city, the position of aesthetics, and wanting to create an environment within the city so it’s easy on the eyes. I also understand St. Charles’ position, in that they’re investing in their business, that they have the challenges of all businesses today, and they have limits within the amount of money they can spend. It’s been a very open, honest discussion. A lot of technical information has been shared. And here we are today with basically the inability to move forward in building a transmission line to feed that substation,” he said.
Smith said there is a concern about electrical loading on the circuit.
“Electrical loading is a concern, particularly in the summer, as air conditioning load increases,” he said. “That’s really when that line is under the most pressure. So it would be our goal to definitely move forward as soon as we can reach an agreement with the stakeholders to complete that line and serve that substation. We really have our eye on the summer of 2010 right now,” said Smith.
Mayor Marge Brown said the city needs to help St. Charles.
“They’re one of our largest employers. We need to move fast on this,” she said.
Councilman and Mayor-Elect Mike Seferian said wooden poles “don’t look that bad” compared to the city having to pay $500,000 for the steel poles.
“I would be leaning that way,” he said, “as long as the element of safety is provided. We have a lot of wood poles in the city. We could get the nicest wood poles. I think that could work.”
Councilman James Seaman said he was concerned about the appearance of the poles.
“I think aesthetics is so important. It can be a guideline for our future in terms of retail development. That’s where we are coming from,” he said.
Councilman Bill Myers asked Smith that if the city agreed to go along with wooden poles, would there be guide wires.
“As originally designed, there are some guide wires,” said Smith. “I am tuned into the fact that guide wiring would probably be one of the first things we would want to address with the city. So we are willing to tweak that design in the spirit of economics. I completely understand and would expect for us to provide some options that eliminate guide wires.”