Study: EES capital needs near $9 million

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Upgrading the Elizabethton Electric System's infrastructure just to accommodate power loads and aging transformers may cost up to $9 million, according to an engineering firm's capital needs assessment.
  Jim Crowder of the Allen & Hoshall engineering firm gave EES board members an overview on Tuesday afternoon of the system's infrastructure needs relating to power capacity during the next 10 to 20 years.
  "We are anticipating a load growth rate of 2 percent a year," Crowder told board members.
  According to figures presented by Crowder, the system's Hatcher Lane substation presently operates at 103 percent capacity. The system's remaining 8 substations were operating on capacity between a low of 53.3 percent (West sub) to 92.3 percent (Milligan College sub).
  The proposal estimated costs for funding the system-wide upgrades at $9.2 million over five to seven years. Crowder's report found the Milligan, Hampton, Hatcher Lane, and Watauga substations would be operating at excess capacity by the year 2014 without upgrades.
  The system spent roughly $18.5 million to upgrade the infrastructure over a 10-year period from 1994 to 2004. The improvements created a debt of over $4 million with most of it funded from the system's general fund account. The Elizabethton Primary, Watauga Industrial Park, and Hatcher Lane substations were brought into service during the period while many additional upgrades were done to the system's six other substations.
  The District and Winner substations endured substantial overloads in recent years that could be alleviated with the capital project needs outlined in the report, Crowder said during his presentation.
  Crowder said the Watauga station accommodated new industrial developments in the park. "They also had the added effect of taking overload off the Winner substation," he said.
  The cost of the capital improvements suggested included creation of a Biltmore substation ($1.3 million), added capacity at the District substation ($1.6 million), and creation of a Milligan primary substation ($2.1 million). Rehabilitation efforts included replacing transformers, breakers, and new 69kV lines at several other substations.
   Crowder said the system currently pays TVA $120,000 in facility rental fees for a transmission line extended to the Milligan substation through Unicoi County.
   Crowder also said the age of transformers at several substations creates concern for the system's future power capacity needs. The age of transformers at the District (48 years old), Milligan (39 years), Winner (38 years), and West Elizabethton (36 years) substations are an issue facing the system in the next 10 to 20 years.
  "Transformers when they are new have a life expectancy of 50 years," Crowder said.
  The assessment also encouraged construction of a new substation to serve the Biltmore community. The District substation presently serves the Biltmore area. If the District substation or the line went down, the Biltmore area could be without electricity for days until service was restored, Crowder said.
  "There are no backup feeds in this area," he told board members.
  EES General Manager, Phil Isaacs, said the system could not likely implement such capital improvements until at least 2005. He also said the system was negotiating with TVA for construction of a direct transmission line to the Milligan College substation that would end the $120,000 facility maintenance fee.
  EES serves over 25,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers.
   "We need to continue work to meet the needs of our system over the next 10 to 20 years," Isaacs told the board.