NEW MADRID - A power outage last Christmas Eve left many New Madrid residents looking for extra blankets and candles. A power outage on the Fourth of July put them searching for a way to stay cool in the summer's sweltering heat.
But in between those power outages, the New Madrid City Council began searching for a way to keep citizens out of the dark and the town at full power. Following a presentation of an evaluation of the electric system, the Council agreed to seek bids to begin the first of what engineers describe as a two-phase project to renovate the electric system which serves approximately 1,800 consumers in the community.
In June representatives from Midsouth Utility Consultants of Bartlett, Tenn., presented their evaluation and the news wasn't good. They used words like "extreme age," "obsolescence" and "in serious need of repairs."
At the city's oldest plant substation, engineers noted the Allis Chalmers air-
blast, oil-filled circuit breaker is old and "has a history of maintenance problems. The air pressure gets low when it gets cold." Problems with rusted air tanks and other tanks with moisture and maintenance problems were pointed out.
Also in the review of the community's electrical system there are wood poles without conductors, bad poles and static and ground wires missing. They predicted underground circuits are nearing the end of their life expectancy and would create problems for residents.
"A lot of the work is rebuilding old lines, replacing old poles, replacing old circuits," explained City Manager Furg Hunter about the recommendations by the engineers.
The system, Hunter noted, goes from nearly brand new to some portions which are 75 years old or more. It is the older portions where most of the serious problems exist, he added.
Particularly in need of being addressed is the demand on the plant substation which serves the older portion of New Madrid. "The demand on this station from the city's 4kV distribution load is an extremely urgent problem in need of attention. The load has exceeded the rating of the power transformer during peak times," engineers stated adding while this is acceptable for short periods of times, the city is experiencing more high load levels for longer durations.
Aging and obsolete equipment make it imperative to change the power load from the station, they stated in their study. The evaluation noted the electric system experienced its historical peak of 12,046 kW in December 2004.
Pete Taylor, superintendent of the city's electrical division, said this substation is an on-going battle for his crew. "This old downtown substation is overloaded especially in the winter months due to electric-heat load. We are having trouble keeping some of the circuits on due to load," he explained.
While he and his crew have worked to keep the system up and running, budget constraints and problems with the difference in voltage from substation to substation have prevented any permanent solution, Taylor said.
The evaluators praised the efforts the city and its workers for providing adequate electric service over the years, but the deficiencies must be addressed they emphasized. They divided their proposal into two phases - a short-term fix - then a plan for long-term solutions.
But the work won't come cheap. Completion of the first phase of short-term needs was estimated at $160,000. The cost for the long-term recommendations is approximately $4 million.
According to Hunter, after hearing the presentation, the Council decided at its July meeting to go forward with nearly all the recommendations made for the first phase of the project. The work would be paid out of the city's current reserves.
Also at that meeting he presented several options on funding the $4 million long-term proposals made for the system. Hunter suggested the Council begin looking at the options which could include a revenue bond issue, a lease/purchase arrangement or a certificate of participation.
"They need to start thinking about not only how they are going to fund this but also where they will find the dollars and how deep into the $4.446 million project does the Council want to go," said Hunter.
But the work is essential, he continued. "It is a matter of being able to provide reliable electrical service to our customers of New Madrid without interruptions, without problems."