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Minimizing outages priority for utilities

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Over the next four years, Los Alamos County will be fitted for a new electrical backbone.

In an effort to reduce the impact of power outages and replace aging equipment, the department of public utilities conducted a condition assessment of the electric distribution system in 2006, from which a prioritization scheme was developed to begin renewing the electrical infrastructure in Los Alamos.

“We tried to get an idea of where we were getting hit the hardest, what was causing it and how it dominoes down the system,” deputy utilities manager Steve Cummins told a group of businessmen at Fuller Lodge Tuesday.

Cummins said the replacement of old conductors and the addition of new switches in several circuits would minimize the impact that power outages have in business districts throughout Los Alamos.

He mentioned that a power outage last month that resulted from an uprooted Ponderosa tree that interfered with power lines was a perfect example of the type of outage the future upgrades would minimize, if not eliminate.

Rather than a quarter of the town losing power, only a small, controlled area near the outage would be affected, Cummins said.

“When we look at our outage reports, a lot of them happen primarily because of the trees,” he said. “We want to eliminate lines that cross through the canyon. There are problems with high winds slapping wires together.”

Current work includes the expansion of circuit 17, which runs through businesses along Trinity, Central and DP Road. A new primary circuit and additional fused switches along these streets will be installed. Work on Deacon Street and Central Park Square (West), as well as work being done in conjunction with Diamond Drive Phase 2, is also currently underway.

In 2009, work is scheduled for Central Park (East), the south side of Trinity from Oppenheimer to the Los Alamos Inn, and 15th Street to N.M. 502.

From 2010-2012, work will continue on 15th Street, Trinity, Diamond Drive (Phase 4) and DP Road.

“With the new circuits, we can keep these outages isolated to a minimum of customers at any given time,” Cummins said. “In the next three years, I’m confident we will see that.”

In 2005 and 2007, the utilities department hired a private contractor to evaluate the condition of existing power poles. Eleven percent of them were found to be “rejects” – that’s 270 out of 2,500.

Rot was largely to blame for the rickety poles, which were later re-enforced with steel trusses to extend their lifetime.

Allison Majure, spokeswoman for the utilities department, encouraged local business owners to look over projected service areas with Cummins and Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith to ensure that the work to be done was in-line with their needs and caused minimal interference with daily business operations.

Some retailers expressed concern over the amount of roadwork scheduled, not only from the utilities department but also from other county projects, and asked how it would impact accessibility to their businesses.

“It’s a big impact on everybody,” Cummins said. “We’re trying to work with other projects and keep up with public road projects. We’re always struggling to try to keep those two aligned.”

Arrowsmith said the projected cost of the project would be roughly $500,000 a year, with a $2 million loan from the county for FY2010 to complete the N.M. 502 project. The money to pay for the project is supplied from rates that customers already pay on their monthly bill intended for capital improvement projects, he added.

“The major backbone of the electrical system in the county is going to be pretty solid,” Arrowsmith said.