Overshadowed by discussions of Costco at the Fremont City Council meeting early this week, a piece of news slipped through the cracks; a piece of news vitally important to everyone in the city who consumes that all-important essence of energy flowing through the outlet, powering the TV, charging the smartphones and just keeping the lights on.
“This is a complicated matter,” said Brian Newton, general manager of utilities for the City of Fremont.
And as those red lines of mercury on the thermometers continues to edge up, and the window ACs hum away under the beating afternoon sun, the City of Fremont Power Plant Superintendent Jeff Shanahan agreed with Newton.
Shanahan added, “It’s an extremely vital” matter.
In order to avoid rolling blackouts come the summer months, Newton requested the city council approve his “affirmation of emergency declaration” in order to expedite repairs to the rotor and steam turbine of the plant’s most powerful work horse when it comes to generating electricity for the city, the large generator known as Lon D. Wright Unit #8.
March 25th, during regularly scheduled maintenance and inspections, small pieces of metal were found in the unit. In a turbine that spins at 3,600 RPMs, funneling steam that reaches a temperature of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit all under an immense atmospheric pressure, small pieces of loose metal can tear up the insides of turbine/generator causing severe damage. Currently, crews at the Fremont Power Plant are mustering up their efforts to complete extensive repairs by June 17.
Shanahan explained that Unit #8 serves as the largest generator in size, as well as capacity at the power plant, providing approximately 91.5 megawatts of power to the city of Fremont. Presently, the city has four other sources from which it can pull electricity: Unit #6 (16megaWatts), Unit #7 (22 megawatts), the Marshal Plant (40 megawatts) and a transmission line (60 megawatts) owned by the Omaha Public Power District which pulls power from the national grid. Between those four sources, the city can remain in the clear as far as black outs are concerned. However, with all four sources running no back up exists.
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“We no longer have a backup. If something would trip we would overload the grid,” Newton said.
That was not always case Newton explained. The Marshall Plant, which is a gas powered turbine (as opposed to the coal powered turbines of Units 6, 7 and 8) always served as the city’s backup in case one of the other generators tripped or needed maintenance. However, due to a 2015 change in regulations regarding the level of voltage that must be maintained in transmission lines, the power plant is now required to pull electricity from all of its four backup sources when Unit #8 is down. It’s the only way to maintain that regulatory voltage level.
Newton explained that when they recently pulled Unit 8 for inspection and found it needed extensive repairs, the situation became critical due to the timing. Summer is rapidly approaching and the needed parts for the repairs must be ordered. The timing of the situation became critical to avoid a cascade of power outages when summer arrives because of increased load on the grid.
By asking the city council to allow him to declare an emergency, Newton can bypass the time-consuming requirement of asking for multiple bids from companies to make the repairs.
“(There’s) no time to go out and find a bid … parts and everything,” Newton explained. “(It) needs to be fixed now.”
An emergency declaration allows Newton to just go ahead and make the repairs regardless of the bids or the fiscal budget assigned for Unit 8 for such maintenance.
Newton estimated the repairs at $1.75 to $2 million. He said insurance should eliminate some of the cost while Unit 8’s 2015-16 Capital Budget of $300,000 and its 2016-17 Capital Budget of $3 million would cover the rest.
As Fremont continues to grow its power requirements will also increase. For that reason, Newton pointed out the completion of the new $32 million Elkhorn River Valley Transmission Project remains of vital importance to Fremont. The new transmission line will bring an additional 100 megawatts to Fremont when completed in 2018.