Three major utility projects will make power service more reliable in southwest Springfield, one of the fastest-growing parts of City Utilities’ service area. In total, City Utilities is spending $14.8 million to build a power substation, run 4.7 miles of transmission lines and overhaul a generator at a coal-fired power plant.
Three major power projects will leave a developing part of Springfield with more reliable power in the years to come.
For the first time in a decade, a generator is shut down and undergoing overhaul at the John Twitty Energy Center coal-fired power plant. At the same time, a new power substation is under construction and 4.7 miles of transmission line connects it all together. Add it up, and you have about $14.8 million worth of work taking place as southwest Springfield sprawls toward the suburb of Republic.
Chris Jones is the vice president and chief electric operations officer for City Utilities. He briefed the Springfield Board of Public Utilities on the three projects on the final day of March. Relating electricity to football terms, Jones said these kinds of projects are the “blocking and tackling” of operating a public power system.
“These are really important projects, and they don’t always come up as often as you might think,” Jones said.
A $5.5 million project to overhaul generation Unit No. 2 at the John Twitty Energy Center started on March 11 and will extend into mid-May. It will involve 6,300 man-hours by City Utilities employees, and another 12,200 man-hours by contracted workers, mostly from Toshiba.
Unit No. 2 went online in 2010 and began producing power for commercial consumption in 2011. The generator has a capacity of 300 megawatts and is the larger of the two generation units at the John Twitty Energy Center, which has a total capacity of 503 megawatts. This is the first major overhaul in the life of Unit No. 2.
“Much like you do maintenance on your car to ensure it’s reliable and make sure you get the full life out of that asset, we do the same thing in power generation, just the assets are very, very expensive,” Jones said.
The disassembly, inspection and part repairs involve a good deal of organization, staging and planning to make the project as efficient as possible and to ensure that the generation equipment can be put back together without complication.
City Utility employees and contracted workers are also overhauling the generator’s environmental equipment and electronic control equipment. The other generators at the plant are running as usual or as needed through the outage.
Substation near Amazon site
A new power substation near the Amazon fulfillment center off of U.S. Highway 60 is less than five miles from the power plant. It costs $5 million to build. Jones said that construction will wrap up in June.
“We haven’t built a substation in 10 years, and we’re proud of the work that our folks are doing out there,” Jones said.
Between the power plant and the new substation, about 4.7 miles of transmission line is being built to carry power from the plant to the substation.
“You can’t build a new substation without a transmission line,” Jones said.
The 161-kilovolt line will cost $4.3 million by the time it is complete.
“It’s on steel structures. It’s the first 161 line that we’ve built on steel structures, which is a really, really good thing to do,” Jones said. “It pays great dividends down the road so you don’t have wood poles with woodpecker damage, and ground line issues.”
City Utilities CEO Gary Gibson said he was proud of the 10 years of planning and right-of-way land acquisition that it took to make the transmission line project happen.
“That’s the culmination of a lot of work, and I’m proud of the fact that Chris and his team and [CU Director of Government Relations] Kyle McClure were able to get the right-of-way for that transmission line all without having to go to condemnation, which isn’t an easy task to do anymore,” Gibson said.
As southwest Springfield grows
Amazon was concerned about capacity and liability when it came to power for the 1.3 million-square-foot warehouse it built in Republic. The power substation had been planned long before Amazon announced it was coming to town.
“We knew that as that area developed we would need it,” Jones said. “Amazon was certainly the tipping point. We already had the substation designed, the site was acquired, so once (Amazon) announced that they were going to build, it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got to lock that in and go ahead and get this built.”
The northwest part of Republic and southwest Springfield is one of the fastest-growing areas inside the City Utilities service territory. Convoy of Hope placed a 195,000-square foot “World Distribution Center” in that area. Jones said that Springfield already had the capacity for the two major developments, but that the three 2022 infrastructure projects make power in the area more reliable.
“We would probably be okay this summer without the substation, but we’ll feel much better from a capacity standpoint once the station is in, for that whole area,” Jones said.
According to its 2022 operating budget, City Utilities expects to make about $96 million worth of capital improvements in 2022, and 29 percent of that, or about $27.4 million, is for electric utility infrastructure work. Major expenses on the horizon include $2.2 million for electric infrastructure improvements along the Grant Avenue Parkway corridor and $2 million worth of utility pole maintenance throughout Springfield.
The two coal-fired units at the John Twitty Energy Center burn low-sulfur coal from Wyoming. City Utilities’ 2022 operating budget includes the purchase of a million tons of coal at a cost of about $35 million.
As of this year, City Utilities serves more than 102,000 residential power customers, with electric use per customer expected to decrease by about 1 percent in 2022. City Utilities also serves about 16,000 commercial customers and 244 industrial power customers.