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Gering plans major power grid upgrade
February 20, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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A long overdue upgrade of Gering’s electrical grid from four kilovolts to 12 kilovolts is in the planning stages.

“This will increase the available voltage in the system,” said Gering Electric Utilities Superintendent Ron Doggett. “Most systems have converted to 12K years ago. We’re probably one of the last cities of this size to still be on a 4K system.”

The upgraded system would be subject to much less “line loss,” of electricity leaking out of the grid. Current line loss is about seven percent. The new 12K system would lower that to just under one percent.

Doggett, who’s been the electrical superintendent for the past 10 years, said he’s been preparing for the upgrade by replacing old transformers with new ones that can handle dual voltage. When overhead power lines along U Street were taken underground last year, the system was built ready to handle the upgrade to 12K.

“We currently have seven substations,” Doggett said. “With a 12K system, we could run on three or maybe four so we’d have some redundancy in the system.”

Some of the Gering substations, especially the ones near the baseball diamonds in Oregon Trail Park and on 21st Street, are running at capacity. The D Street substation, built in the 1950s, would probably be eliminated in a 12K conversion, primarily because of antiquated technology.

The Public Works Committee will recommend the city council approve a preliminary study, which will have to be done by an electrical engineering consultant. The study will include current losses in the entire system, substation and transformer locations and other factors that impact the electrical system. That data will be analyzed by computer to determine where the system vulnerabilities lie and what substations could be eliminated by upgrading.

“The consultant’s study would actually be a number of studies,” said Gering City Engineer Paul Snarr. “It will include long-range planning and short-term construction plans.”

Doggett and Snarr both said that while numbers are still to be determined in the study, the city could potentially save from $300,000 – $400,000 a year with the upgrade.

Because the project would cost several million dollars, it would have to be bonded over time. However, many Public Works Committee members agreed the potential savings could finance the bond payback schedule.

Once a consultant is hired, the study could take about three months to complete. Then the city would need to complete some design work before city council consideration. Bond funding would need to be secured. If approved, the project would possibly begin in 2015.
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