Sun City APS project delay causes neighborhood concern

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

A Sun City electricity project delayed by weather should be completed soon, but it has caused some neighborhood concern.

Arizona Public Service in April began prep work and placed equipment on the northwest corner of 103rd Avenue and Boswell Boulevard to add a unit at the site. But no additional work has been done since that time and it created some hardships and concern for condo association officials in the area.

“There are metal covers over holes and the equipment was placed on association property and has now killed the grass underneath,” said Tom Levinson, association board president. “They also dug up some of our irrigation system and we’re not sure if it was restored.”

Sun City resident Tom Levinson looks at the equipment and holes covered on his condo association’s property. Work was started in April to add a switching cabinet but stopped shortly thereafter because of high temperatures.

APS plans to install a new smart technology switching cabinet, located adjacent to the existing unit, at the 103rd Avenue site, according to Annie DeGraw, APS spokeswoman. This new cabinet is designed to help reduce outage durations and restore power quicker when an outage does occur.

“This provides great benefit to the customer and is part of a broader modernization effort on APS’s grid,” Ms. DeGraw said.

Mr. Levison had been regularly calling APS to find out what was happening with the project but received few answers until last week.

“We had hoped to install this equipment in the spring, but had to delay it because of weather,” Ms. DeGraw said.
She explained higher temperatures earlier than usual in the spring raised concerns by APS officials about doing the installation and having equipment down during the peak summer usage.

“Our system is designed throughout the Valley to handle the three months of potential 120-degree temperatures,” Ms. DeGraw said.

APS crews were on 103rd Avenue site Aug. 24 to move the equipment and evaluate the safety issues and association irrigation system to see what steps need to be taken ahead of installation. APS equipment installation is not scheduled as triple-digit temperatures continue, according to Ms. DeGraw.

Mr. Levison said when APS officials finally contacted him Aug. 21 he was told the installation is 2-4 weeks away.

“We were told to make any repairs to our property and irrigation system and submit a claim for reimbursement,” he said.

But after APS moved equipment and taped off some areas, Mr. Levision does not believe it is practical to make any repairs to association property until the APS project is complete.

The project at 103rd Avenue is part of APS’s smart grid technology program, designed to allow customers to have greater control over their electricity use.

Ms. DeGraw explained the utility is spending about $1 billion annually to ensure Arizona’s energy future is reliable, cleaner and more efficient. APS crews have built or upgraded six substations and installed 493 miles of distribution lines over the past two years. They also incorporated smart grid innovations, she added.

The smart grid is an integrated portfolio of innovative technologies that work together, according to information on the APS website, Digital meters in homes and businesses, sensors and automated switches on power lines and powerful computer algorithms all work together to assess and communicate the real-time conditions of utility lines and equipment.

Ms. DeGraw said that adding new technologies to the power lines and electrical substations allows APS officials to operate more efficiently. New technologies are expected to save the utility company money, improve reliability and lead to long-term cost savings for customers, she added.

“These emerging technologies also make it easier to make intelligent choices about energy use based on your priorities,” she said.

Utility officials are also turning to battery power. Instead of rebuilding about 20 miles of transmission and distribution poles and wires, APS crews will install two battery storage systems in rural Punkin Center, Arizona, making it one of the first electricity companies in the nation to use batteries in place of traditional infrastructure, according to an APS press release. The two 4-megawatt-hour Advancion batteries are made by AES Energy Storage. Construction on the project will begin in fall 2017.

“This project is a crucial step in the right direction for Arizona’s energy future,” said Scott Bordenkircher, APS’s Transmission and Distribution Technology Innovation and Integration director. “Over the next 15 years, APS has plans to add 500 megawatts of storage capacity. This project is indicative of the type of smart grid APS envisions for customers, one that enables people to have more technology in their own homes.”

Last December, APS installed two AES battery storage units in the West Valley as part of the Solar Partner Program.

APS now uses batteries to store excess solar power for use after the sun goes down, for storing energy to use at peak times and for other functions, such as voltage support. The Punkin Center project is unique in that the primary function of the battery is basic grid operation, according to Mr. Bordenkircher. To reliably serve new customers in the growing community of Punkin Center, APS officials were faced with rebuilding 20 miles of power lines over rough terrain. A review of the community’s needs showed that adding battery storage would provide these additional benefits at a similar cost to rebuilding the lines.

“We are watching as the prices come down on battery technology,” said Mr. Bordenkircher. “Thoughtful implementation of battery storage is key to its future success. For a community like Punkin Center, the rural location, reduced implementation costs and added technological benefits make it the perfect candidate for this technology. ”

The batteries will increase power reliability to serve the community of 600 residents, located roughly 90 minutes northeast of downtown Phoenix. The battery project will be built with the capability to add energy capacity as the need arises over the next five to 10 years. The pair of 4-MWh battery storage systems are expected to be operational in early 2018.

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