Village Council considers electrical grid improvements
- Published: September 25, 2023
With no legislation on the agenda for the most recent Village Council meeting, Monday, Sept. 18, the group spent much of the meeting considering ways in which the local power grid could be improved over the coming years.
To that end, Council members heard a presentation given by Mike Kiser, president and owner of Encompass, a Findlay, Ohio-based engineering and architecture firm that was recently tasked with surveying and analyzing Yellow Springs’ electrical grid.
The Village paid Encompass $76,000 in March 2022 to conduct the analysis.
According to Kiser, the Village is currently in “good shape” in how it distributes power to its residents and businesses, but if Yellow Springs is to continue growing, the grid will need to be improved.
“Yellow Springs is seeing a lot of load growth,” Kiser said of the village’s ever-increasing consumption of electricity. “Cell phones, TVs, iPads and the latest trend of electric vehicles — electricity usage doesn’t tend to go down, only up.”
From his company’s analysis results, Kiser also identified several large-scale dependents on the local grid that are are currently contributing or will soon contribute to the “load growth” in Yellow Springs: the local medical marijuana grower, Cresco Labs; the future 90-home subdivision being built at Wright Street; and the growing number of businesses and restaurants catering to the needs of more tourists coming to Yellow Springs.
“There’s this snowball effect of local growth and the impact on your system load,” Kiser said. “You bring more people to Yellow Springs, you then build more businesses to serve them. All that impacts your system load.”
To address that trend of greater electricity usage each year, Kiser outlined several improvements the Village could enact immediately and over the next 10 years.
Among the immediate projects that need to occur are adding a new circuit between the two existing circuits that service the eastern and western hemispheres of the village; re-fusing taps and transformers so that when one home loses power, the rest of the block doesn’t go down; and building a new reconductor on Dayton Street.
Over the course of the next five years, Kiser recommended building a number of additional reconductor “backbones” and “feeds” elsewhere in the village, installing new reclosers and capacitors and continuing the ongoing work of replacing utility poles.
To this recommendation, Public Works Director and Interim Village Manager Johnnie Burns noted that since 2014, the four-person electric crew has successfully replaced 260 poles, with only 20 more to go in the coming months.
“And bad poles are definite contributors to power outages,” Kiser added.
Before the end of the decade, though, Kiser strongly urged the Village to invest in its own substation — a high-voltage electric system facility to switch generators, equipment and circuits or lines that feed the municipal grid.
“At some point, your load growth will get to the point where a substation makes sense,” Kiser said. “Right now, you’re OK — your load is about 2.5 times below what the utility can provide. But at some point, on the north end of town, you [should consider] rebuilding your switching station as a substation.”
In a follow-up interview after Monday’s meeting, Burns was inclined to agree with Kiser’s recommendation to one day build Yellow Springs’ own substation.
“If we’re to keep growing, then yes, absolutely we’ll need our own,” Burns said.
Presently, the Village’s electricity comes from two substations beyond the municipal limits: one on Snypp Road, west of Yellow Springs, and one in Xenia.
As Kiser noted in his presentation, a substation would not provide Yellow Springs with complete electricity independence, as the Village would continue to receive its electricity from the nonprofit wholesale power supplier American Municipal Power; however, it would provide local residents with more reliable power through a transmission voltage system.
In his brief interview with the News, Burns noted that the last time Village government considered building its own substation was around 2007, when then-Village Manager Eric Swansen urged Council to approve a plan to build one to accommodate the rising energy demand in the village. Skeptical, and believing the village should aim to decrease rather than increase its energy use, then-Village Council member Judith Hempfling helped organize the Electrical System Task Force — a group that eventually determined that a substation was not needed.
“At the time, it was probably a good decision,” Burns said. “But if Cresco expands into the [adjoining] industrial park, other businesses also keep growing, the Village develops Glass Farm [for additional housing] and infill continues, then there’s a high possibility that we’ll need a substation sooner [rather] than later.”
Burns said that the process of building a new substation would be an intensive project that could take up to five years — when Yellow Springs’ energy consumption will likely be significantly higher than it is now.
Kiser told Council that for now, even without its own substation, Yellow Springs is in a good spot in how it manages its electrical grid.
“Across the country, [cities] have not spent the money on the distribution systems they need. Load growth is happening everywhere, but a lot of places are not prepared,” he said. “The fact that you’re improving yours is great.”
He continued: “Johnnie and [Electric Superintendent] Ben [Sparks] have been doing a great job from a planning perspective and getting ahead of your problems. You haven’t had as many outages as you used to.”