Thursday, December 28th, 2006
By Shelley Grieshop
$11 million to go to electric upgrade
  Midwest Electric is embarking on an $11 million project to upgrade its electric distribution system throughout the local area.
The St. Marys-based cooperative plans to complete the task during the next four years. The work will take place in various regions of the Grand Lake area, Customer Service Manager Matt Berry told The Daily Standard.
The upgrade will help reduce outages, improve voltage stability and power reliability and aid the company in future growth, he said.
"We're growing about 3 percent per year," Berry said.
The customer-owned business serves 10,500 homes, farms and businesses in Auglaize, Mercer, Allen, Van Wert, Putnam, Shelby and Darke counties.
Ninety miles of the company's current 1,500 miles of electric lines will be converted from old copper wire - some of it more than 60 years old - to aluminum wire, which is lighter, more durable and less expensive.
The company discovered during the 2005 ice storm that outages were much more significant in areas with copper lines, Berry said. Replacing older lines will tap the bulk of the expense, costing more than $4 million.
Other major projects in the plan include $1.3 million for a new substation near Cridersville; $1.1 million to replace electric poles, guy wires and anchors; $1.2 million for the installation of automated meter reading devices; $900,000 for new transformers; $234,000 for tie lines that back-feed substations from other locations during outages or transformer failures; $212,000 for voltage regulators; and $800,000 to trim trees near wires.
About 70 miles of Midwest Electric lines still will need converted from copper to aluminum when the four-year project is complete, Berry said.
"From a cost standpoint, we're waiting," he said, adding the company hopes to replace the remaining lines soon after the immediate project is finished.
Berry said there may be momentary outages while work is being completed, but the company doesn't expect any major complications. Anything out of the ordinary will be pre-announced if possible, he said.
Although customer electric rates increased on average $4 per month in May, the upgrade costs fielded by the company should not cause rates to rise in the near future, he added.
Midwest customers currently read their own electric meters monthly and submit the information to the cooperate for billing, but that process likely will change in the future as the company looks into automated meter reading equipment. The cooperative has expressed interest in special equipment that provides meter readings and voltage, outage and other system data, Berry said.
Also, throughout the next four years, Midwest will continue testing home and business meters for accuracy. Each will be recalibrated and replaced when necessary, Berry added.

The upgrades:
Midwest Electric plans the following electrical upgrades in the Grand Lake area in the next four years:
Mercer County
In the Rockford area: New voltage regulators will be put into service in 2007. Tree trimming and pole testing will take place at a later date.
Franklin, Marion, German and Jackson townships (Chickasaw area): 11.7 miles of line replaced in 2007, 11.6 miles and voltage regulators replaced in 2008, and another 6.5-mile line conversion in 2009.
St. Henry, Sharpsburg and Coldwater areas: About 7.5 miles of a new three-phase feeder circuit will be constructed in 2009 and 2010 to provide backup service transfer capability among individual village service points. This will improve power restoration in the event of a major outage.
New voltage regulators also will be installed in the St. Henry area during the same timeframe.
Recovery, Butler and Washington townships (serviced by the Macedon substation): New voltage regulators and trees will be trimmed at an unannounced date. Electric poles are slated for testing in 2007.

Auglaize County
Noble, Salem and Center townships (served by the Noble substation): More than 24 miles of line conversion (16.1 miles in 2007 and 8.2 miles in 2010), as well as tree trimming and pole testing at various times.
Noble Township (serviced through the Kossuth delivery point) and neighboring townships of Spencer, Logan, Moulton and Salem: 12 miles of line conversion, a half-mile of three-phase aluminum conductor upgraded to larger wire, tree trimming and pole testing in 2007 and 2008.
Franklin, German, Jackson and St. Marys townships (served by the Lake substation): A 32-mile line conversion (2007-2010), some single-phase circuits upgraded to three-phase and new voltage regulators in 2010.
St. Marys, Noble, Washington, German, Jackson, Moulton and Duchouquet townships (served by the Moulton delivery point): New voltage regulators in 2010 and nearly 24.5 miles of line replacement in 2007 and 2008. A new Cridersville substation will be constructed by 2010 to alleviate one megawatt of customer load from the Moulton substation.
Other areas: Work will be completed at the Spencerville delivery point in 2007, servicing Spencer, Jennings, Washington and Union townships. At an unannounced date various work also is scheduled for Amanda, Shawnee, Duchouquet and Logan townships, all served by the Amanda substation.
- Shelley Grieshop
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