Transforming the Grid

Posted: December 31, 2020, 12:00 am
Local officials gathered with Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative officials to commission a new substation in the Fadette community in mid November.

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s (WEC's) top priority is serving its members well, and it supports that effort through its Number 1 goal of working safely.

When a project melds both concepts to significantly improve service reliability and safety, WEC endeavors to make it happen as efficiently as possible. One such initiative came to fruition in November when WEC and its energy provider, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, commissioned a new substation in the Fadette community south of Slocomb.

Energizing the new facility concluded a project that began with planning in 2018, took 33 weeks to construct, and cost about $2.6 million to complete.

“We are always implementing changes, both large and small, that improve our grid,” says Wiregrass Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro. “WEC is proud to serve our members better through this effort and provide our employees a safer working environment. We appreciate PowerSouth’s support of this monumental effort.”

Improving Reliability & Service

Those attending the commissioning of the Fadette substation listen to an address from WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro.

The new facility boosts WEC’s already sterling electrical service in the area, especially since it replaces an older substation — known as the Slocomb substation — adjacent to the project.

The most significant development is that the PowerSouth-fed substation provides WEC the opportunity to create more redundancies or backup sources of power. If major outages occur at the Fadette substation or others nearby, WEC can quickly switch circuits and restore power to most members during repairs.

The new substation includes more spacing to accommodate additional equipment should the area experience significant growth. The extra space also provides PowerSouth the room to connect a mobile substation, which will continue service to WEC members if repairs and upgrades are needed at the Fadette facility.

Russ Harper, PowerSouth’s distribution engineer and assistant to the director of engineering, discusses the Fadette project’s benefits at a November ceremony.

The new substation sports more capacity, operating on 115-kilovolt transformers instead of the 46-kV transformers found at the Slocomb substation. The project also standardizes some equipment, allowing PowerSouth to respond quickly with replacement parts.

“The 115-kV transmission system tends to be more robust as the structures are larger, provide more spacing and create more network redundancy, which equates to greater reliability,” says Russ Harper, PowerSouth’s distribution engineer and assistant to the director of engineering.

Another benefit is the new substation uses newer and more efficient equipment, which reduces line loss. Line loss is the amount of power lost during transmission of electricity from power plants hundreds of miles away.

“This project benefits our members in so many ways,” says Jason Thrash, WEC’s Vice President of Engineering and Operations. “It helps us deliver a more efficient and more reliable product during ordinary days and potentially reduces the length of outages in the area following severe storms.”

Safety and Other Benefits

Taylor Williams, PowerSouth’s governmental affairs and economic development manager, touts the economic advantages of the $2.6 million Fadette project.

During a commissioning ceremony on Nov. 17, several speakers emphasized the safety advantages the new substation provides — namely, how potential hazards are reduced through equipment standardization and a larger space in which to operate.

Thrash also highlighted the cohesion of his and the PowerSouth staff in their work to create the substation, noting: “This project went smoothly. In our industry, we like smooth. When things aren’t smooth, there is a potential for safety issues.”

The new substation provides WEC and its members additional benefits beyond reliability and safety, though.

First, it gives WEC a strong opportunity to upgrade area members’ meters to radio frequency meters as part of a pilot program. Those meters automatically signal WEC when outages occur, quickening WEC’s response.

WEC Vice President of Engineering and Operations Jason Thrash outlines a new radio frequency (RF) meter pilot program that accompanies the creation of a new substation.

The new substation also features broadband internet capabilities through a partnership between WEC and Troy Cable. And that partnership promotes opportunities to expand broadband access in the area. Besides being a necessity for residents, given today’s internet-dependent culture, broadband availability is a factor when businesses and industries are considering expansions or relocations.

“You cannot have economic development success without infrastructure,” Kimbro says. “A project like this shows that you don’t have to sacrifice anything when you choose to live in rural areas of the Wiregrass and can have strong investments in our area. We’re doing everything we can to improve the quality of life here.”

Fadette Project Facts

Location: On Alabama Highway 103 just south of Slocomb

Timeline: Project was pitched to PowerSouth’s engineering and operations committee in February 2018 and gained approval. Construction began on March 16, 2020, and the substation was energized on Nov. 2.

Cost: More than $2.4 million for PowerSouth and $125,000 for WEC