Duke adding alarms, might sell substations, to address Rock Hill power outages

adouglas@heraldonline.comJuly 18, 2013 

Duke Energy might sell two of its electric substations to Rock Hill after recent trouble with equipment knocked out power for thousands of residents four times in six weeks.

Company and city representatives met Thursday to discuss the recent issues, after Rock Hill officials demanded answers about problems that affected an average of 6,641 customers during each outage.

Duke is considering selling to Rock Hill two of the three substations it owns that transmit electricity from the Catawba Nuclear Station to the city.

A third Duke substation on Charlotte Avenue will no longer be used by the city once upgrades to a nearby city-owned substation are complete later this year.

Information about the cost of buying the two other substations was not available Thursday, but city officials said a new substation generally costs up to $2.5 million to build.

Rock Hill has plans to start building a new substation downtown next year to improve electricity service for the proposed “Knowledge Park.”

City leaders hope economic development plans for “Knowledge Park” will attract high-tech companies to a part of the city once dominated by the textiles industry.

Duke’s electricity feed to Rock Hill substations has failed five times since late last year, city officials say – once in October 2012, once in May and three times in June.

Concern over electricity service reliability and Duke’s response time to correct problems prompted the city’s request for a meeting, Deputy City Manager Jimmy Bagley said earlier this month.

Duke said earlier this month that it has replaced a transformer at one of its substations that was having problems.

Thursday’s meeting “was positive, productive and resulted in a number of actions for both Duke Energy and the city to take to help improve reliability,” Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said.

In response to recent problems, Duke installed an alarm at the substation in Rock Hill’s Industrial Park to notify the company immediately of an outage.

Duke also plans to send a service technician to its substations when there’s a problem, whether the disruption in service is a Duke issue or not.

Duke told city officials it might consider installing alarms at other substations, city spokeswoman Katie Quinn said.

City-owned substations in Rock Hill already have alarms, she said, which generally decreases the wait time for customers who have lost power.

The main draw for Rock Hill to buy Duke’s substations would be to increase reliability and cut down on response time to outages by installing alarms, Quinn said.

If Duke decides to sell, Rock Hill could buy the company’s substations on Mount Gallant Road in the Industrial Park and a substation along Albright Road in southern Rock Hill.

Most of Rock Hill’s electricity comes from the Catawba Nuclear Station, which Duke manages.

Of the five recent substation problems, the most widespread outage left 8,229 Rock Hill customers without power for nearly 1.5 hours on June 22.

The most recent outage at a Duke substation on June 28 maxed out the city’s 47 call center lines that customers use to report electricity service problems. Of 8,141 customers affected then, the city received more than 1,600 calls in about an hour’s time.

Piedmont Medical Center, one customer affected June 28, used its back-up generator for about 90 seconds before city utility officials were able to move the hospital’s power source to another substation.

Duke “has a traditional history of excellent transmission service, and we expect that to continue going forward,” Quinn said.

When reporting outages to the city, she said, customers are encouraged to use Rock Hill’s website if they have Internet access on a mobile phone.

Online reporting and real-time information about outages is available at cityofrockhill.com/outage.

The city also uses its Facebook page and Twitter account to update followers on power outages.

Power was disrupted for about 15 minutes for some customers in Rock Hill on Wednesday when a crow tripped a piece of equipment at a city substation.

During that outage, city workers handled 337 notifications of problems from customers, but fell short of hitting capacity to accept calls when 39 lines were busy at once.

More than 250 customers called the city to report the latest outage, Quinn said, and only 35 people used the website to report it.

The city recently upgraded its phone system for handling calls. The new system produces a message for customers who call when all lines are in use.

The recorded message assures customers that the city is aware of an electricity service issue, Quinn said, instead of customers’ hearing a busy signal or having a call dropped.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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