WESTFIELD — The village of Westfield is in the process of making several improvements to the reliability of its electric system.
Andrew Thompson, village Department of Public Works director, believes the projects will significantly reduce the occurrence of major power outages in the future.
Westfield’s electrical system provides electricity to more than 3,300 people in both the town and village. The village has contracted O’Connell Electric to replace the cap switch on the village transmission line that connects with the transmission grid. The current cap switch was installed in the early 1970s and could present a major problem for the village if it is not replaced.
All materials are in place for the project, which is expected to begin next month.
Westfield has been impacted by severe weather-related events over the past several years. Most recently, Westfield experienced a 24-hour systemwide power outage from March 23 to March 24.
Thompson said March’s power outage was caused by an issue with a transmission pole that feeds the entire village electric system.
“It was a systemwide outage because an outage on that line knocks out power to the entire system,” he said.
Thompson said one of the difficulties in the electric system is the location of the electric structures. Many of the structures are off-road and in difficult locations to reach. Additionally, the village’s electric workers are not qualified to work at the high voltage of the transmission line.
As a result, the village has been using and is continuing to use resources to replace some of the transmission structures. Thompson said the structures are “getting 50 years old and in need of replacement.”
“We’ve had two different pole line inspections done,” he said. “They go and actually test each pole and check the condition of each pole.”
The village has announced contract bidding for the replacement of three electric structures that will be open for contractors to submit credentials and bids on July 20.
The village also has about 56 structures in between the cap switch and the electric substation. By replacing three of these structures, Thompson said, the village hopes to significantly improve the reliability of the electric system.
The village hopes to have the project completed before winter. However, supply chain issues could impact the project.
“We’ve done several of them over the past few years,” Thompson said. “These ones were originally installed in the early ’70s.”
The village is also in the process of building a new feed from the transmission substation to one of the village distribution substations.
Another project the village is undertaking is the installation of vacuum circuit breakers at the transmission station.
“In addition to that, we’ve got various reconductoring jobs throughout our system that our guys are doing,” Thompson said. “Reconductoring is basically when you replace the poles, wire, transformers and everything on a road.”
Thompson said reconductoring is essential to maintaining the village’s electric system and the village has a plan they follow for replacing the old equipment. The village is also working to ensure the electric system remains reliable in the future.
“One thing we’re looking at right now is doing a load forecast study,” Thompson said. “So I’m talking with an engineering firm just to see at this point what the cost would be.”
One of the main concerns for the village electric system is the potential for a large increase in electric vehicle charging. The load forecast study will help the village make adjustments to be able to support widespread increases in electric car charging.
“That stands to have a huge impact on us,” Thompson said.
IN NEED OF AN UPGRADE
Thompson believes the best way the village can make improvements to the electric system is by upgrading the transmission line and maintaining the existing structures.
“Improving and upgrading that transmission line is the main thing we can do,” he said. “We’re in kind of a situation where that’s our only source of power through the transition grid. It has to come through that line.”
Despite conversations regarding an alternative such as an additional transmission feed, the way the village electric system is designed makes this difficult. “Our system is designed to run at the voltage it’s at,” Thompson said.
While the addition of a second transmission feed is unlikely at this point, the village is working to make improvements to the current system and is investing resources into tree trimming to reduce the likelihood of branches falling on electric lines.