Avista seeks to rebuild substation

Move would decrease outage time, allow for more customers

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Avista Utilities is promising that building a new, $2 million substation in Coeur d'Alene would reduce outage lengths and add on customers for another half century, if approved by Kootenai County.

"We're always investing in our system to make it more efficient," said Laurine Jue, spokeswoman for the Spokane-based company.

Avista is requesting a conditional use permit from Kootenai County to replace its Blue Creek substation on South Bonnell Road.

The facility serves 2,100 customers in the Blue Creek, Fernan Lake and Wolf Lodge areas.

The substation is nearly 40 years old, Jue said, with aging equipment like the transformer that converts voltages to send through neighborhoods.

"We really started it out just looking at replacing the transformer," Jue said. "As we got into it and fully assessed the situation, we realized it would be more cost effective to completely rebuild it."

The new facility, to be built on the same four-acre parcel as the current structure, would have more energy efficient equipment, Jue said.

It would also include new technology like remote control switches that would allow Avista to respond to problems sooner, she said.

"What we're doing is installing equipment that's just smarter, that gives us more visibility into what's going on," Jue said, adding that occasions requiring a repair crew now might not at the new facility. "That's going to mean shorter outages for customers."

Mike Magruder, substation engineering manager, added that the facility would allow the utility to add on customers in the area for another 40 to 50 years.

"Just the way we're designing and building it," Magruder said.

Most substations have a life of several decades, he said.

Avista only replaces about 4 of its 160 substations a year, he added.

Besides a shorter restoration time after outages, Jue said, customers shouldn't see much difference.

"That's why we're planning it," she said. "So customers will not experience any difference."

The new facility won't affect customers' energy bills, she said.

If approved by the county, construction would occur in the fall and last up to 8 months.

According to the project narrative for the proposal, the new facility will be surrounded by a 7.5-foot fence with chain link and barbed wire "to protect the equipment inside the yard from vandalism and acts of terrorism, as well as to protect public at large from the danger of electrocution."

The structure will be unmanned, the narrative states.

Magruder said the current substation will remain functioning until the new one is complete, so service will not be affected at any time.

Avista will go before the county hearing examiner at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 21 in room 1 of the county administration building.

The commissioners will later make a decision based on the examiner's recommendation.

"Increased reliability, shorter outages and the efficiency piece, are all critical factors in why we're investing millions of dollars," Jue said.

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