How to make sure we don't get shafted on the upgrade
Date: Monday, May 02, 2011 @ 16:43:23 EST
Topic: LW Utilities


WARNING, UPGRADE COSTS COULD DOUBLE

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THE SMART GRID alone is a wild card. Xcel's Project in Boulder Colorado is coming in at about 300% over projected cost   That plus undergrounding costs need careful review as this appears to be another boondoggle headed our way courtesy of good ideas without the ability to afford them.

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Let me first emphasize that the voltage 13.2 kV is the right distribution voltage to use. The industry mantra ALWAYS BUILD STANDARD was impossible to communicate five years ago despite the utility’s own data which proved the beat up old 4 kV system was operating ten times more reliably than the newer 26.4 kV system they wanted to replace it with.

But the hysteria at the time turned truth into lies and lies into truth. Imagine Paul Boyer and staff wasted over five thousand of your money to fly in an engineer from Alabama to discredit the truth... and to substitute a lie. All directed at undermining the Chairman. Thank God that’s over.

I thought the present utility department put on a good power point presentation the other day covering the future upgrade path for our electric utility. But I have a number of reservations about the cost. For the system they spec’ed out… they can’t possibly deliver it for the 22 million they proposed.

If they are going to underground east of Dixie… that’s a wonderful idea but there is nothing on the horizon that would lower undergrounding costs ten fold unless they are going to gouge out a lot of money from residents. Plus there’s the problem of eliminating those ugly poles. That means the cable, phone and any other wiring on the poles has to be also placed underground… who pays for that?

So the package spec’d out would be at least double the 22 million dollar figure. I can remember all too well in early 2006 how Paul Boyer had already issued an RFB January 12th confirming 26 had already been chosen and lied on the record saying he knew nothing about it. He did that because the Task Force was supposed to vote on the upgrade in April. So Paul and staff got busy and conned my board into a quick vote to save his posterior. And within days after this hasty vote, Mark Beauchamp, the city's rate analyst for the utility, announced on the record that the cost of the electrical upgrade would double from 30 to 60 million and my board didn’t even flinch. That’s how much they cared about the city and this is a matter of record.

So let’s get this one right and make sure the costs are represented correctly and they are not as of now.

First, there’s the big issue of who’s going to manage this project since the city has no one on staff qualified with experience in doing an upgrade. I am reminded that 17 million dollars of bond money has somehow already been spent with little more than a substation and some insulators to show for it. A full accounting must be forthcoming.

Millions of it was squandered by the same employees who in their professionalism publicly and steadfastly took us in the wrong direction and nearly bankrupted the city with the wrong upgrade. They supported the 26.4 kV and refused to listen to reason and the facts. And it was these same employees that went to great lengths to convince then Commissioner Cara Jennings and Mayor Drautz who also refused to listen to the truth and it was they who recklessly plunged the city headlong into chaos with millions squandered on the wrong upgrade, with the wrong contractors, a half million lost in inventory, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of copper wire disappearing, millions paid to contractors whose work had to be redone… on and on.

And I remember quite a number of those utility employees showing up at city meetings speaking out and pressuring the Commission to go ahead with the 26.4 kV conversion that is was a better upgrade path and to forget any opposition. So, I surely hope these are not the same employees that are being trusted to manage 22 million on this upgrade. It took almost a year of work to stop the runaway upgrade that was well on its way to bankrupting the city.

So it would be good for them to explain what changes over the past five years have come about and how did they get enlightened that they were wrong about the 26 kV. And do these employees now believe firmly and absolutely in the 13.2 upgrade which they said 5 years ago was totally the wrong way to go?

So this is the recommendation I made to a Commissioner a few weeks ago:

To verify costs won’t double, ask staff to pick one feeder from the 15th Avenue substation (east of Dixie) and give us a complete cost breakdown including design layout, engineering, materials manifest, undergrounding, timeline etc. Then let’s take a close look at that and see how it shakes out.


There you have it.







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