Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Mayor talks electricity

February 14, 2001

To the Editor:

There has been much "to do" about the future of our electrical generating plant during the mayoral race. As present city mayor I find it fascinating that the other candidates have such strong opinions about the electrical situation in the city but none of the other three candidates have ever been a city council member. Furthermore, I could count on one hand the hours each have spent at our "open to the public meetings" to enlighten our city council members with their quick fix ideas. An important decision for the Baldwin City residents to decide is the future of the electrical generating plant. This generating plant was built before a couple of the candidates were even born and has provided this town for years with all the electricity we ever needed. Consequently, there has become a dependency on "the plant" that dates back long before the current mayor, council and city administration were in their positions. Even as frequently as two summers ago, the "old plant" saved this community a million dollars by filling in during the Nearman Electric Plant fire. As residents know, the city had a contract with the Nearman Plant to provide Baldwin City with electricity that summer. So did Osawatomie and Ottawa to name a few others. The city of Osawatomie spent over a million dollars to buy electricity and also suffered "rolling blackouts." Through litigation, Baldwin City residents and the other cities will hopefully recover that expense. Trial date is Feb. 20. As simplistic as some may think it to be, it is not possible to turn a key one day and have electricity from an outside source. Because of the deterioration of the wires in Baldwin City and the voltage size of the transformers that were in the city, it was first necessary to upgrade the entire town to make us compatible with the outside world. KCPL has informed the city they currently are not interested in completely taking over Baldwin City's electrical supply until all the phases of our wiring upgrades are completed. The final phase is slated to be completed this summer and we should be thankful to the current council and city staff for pushing through with this major improvement.

As everyone knows the "old plant" is not the most efficient producer of electricity, but in times of emergency, such as last fall's hail storm on Sept. 11, 2000, nobody really cared how efficient the "old plant" was, they just wanted their garage door opener to work. As mayor and city council, we are working to improve the city's ability to outsource for cheaper electricity by increasing our options with other electricity distributors. We also have incorporated a capital improvement savings fund to alleviate large capital demands for our electric needs. In regard to the local electric distributors, our city staff and current council have had numerous discussions with both utilities. KCPL is also struggling to meet the needs of its growing customer base and is hesitant to take over Baldwin City until they are confident they can provide the service. KPL does not currently own the franchise rights for this area; thus, that agreement would have to be purchased. Additionally, KPL would need to run new feeder lines for several miles at a cost of $120,000 per mile plus the cost of the land easements required. These costs would be charged directly to Baldwin customers. If the city eliminated our electrical generators, the city would be required to maintain and monitor the distribution system presently located within the current power plant. KCPL has stated the city would need to dismantle and remove all generation equipment prior to taking over the generation system. KPL has stated the complete opposite. They would like the city to stay in the generation business if they should come to an agreement with us. Also, it is highly unlikely that KCPL or KPL would station a line crew within the city, therefore, any service disruptions would await the arrival of a crew from out of town. As we progress with the electrical upgrades, the outsourcing options for electricity become more promising. Improved city staff and wiring upgrades throughout the city have reduced the amount of outage from 26 hours in 1999 to seven hours in the year 2000 which the Sept. 11 hail storm caused the majority of lost time.

Presently, the city contracts its base need electricity from the Grand River Dam Authority and buys surplus from KCPL as needed. The city staff has calculated the city's average electrical needs throughout the year dependent upon the season and normal weather conditions. During the high heat of summer our "old plant" is used to produce additional electricity when the cost of purchasing additional kilowatts becomes excessive. The alternative to occasionally generating our own electricity when the temperatures unpredictably soar, would be to always contract excess and pay for it even when it is not used. Furthermore, an attempt to estimate the daily need of electricity based on the summer heat would result in constant over purchase. By contract with KCPL, the city is required to have a 12 percent reserve in generating and purchasing capacity over current demand. Demand reached 8.3 Megawatts last summer and is expected to hit 9.0 Megawatts this summer. Currently, the city has 10.25 Megawatts of total capacity. The city currently has a reserve of 23 percent. If the city reaches the peak of 9.0 Megawatts this summer, we will only have a reserve of 14 percent. This means, if the load growth continues as expected, the city would not have the 12 percent reserve required to maintain the contractual agreement at the present cost with KCPL.

Improving our electrical options is not a "turn key" operation, nor is it possible to run an extension cord from Baldwin City to a major electrical distributor. In the last four years as mayor, the council and administrator have improved the city's options for electricity. We are presently approaching the position that will enable us to bring in low cost electricity. The final phases of the new wiring within Baldwin City must be completed to meet contractual requirements, as well as to fulfill the need of the entire community. This has taken several years to accomplish; however we did not get into this overnight either. As mayor, I will continue to strive to meet the needs of the community and to improve our options in purchasing electricity at reasonable costs.

Mayor Stan Krysztof
Baldwin City

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