February 28th, 2024

City mulling possible options to deal with likely wave of increased electricity demand

By COLLIN GALLANT on August 19, 2022.

City workers adjust a power line connection in Crestwood in this 2020 file photo. A new analysis states that major upgrades to the system will be needed to meet growing demand over the new 10 years from existing homes as more electric furnaces and EV car chargers are installed. - NEWS FILE PHOTO

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

The city’s power utility could consider drawing up plans to hasten and help homeowners pay for upgrading the size of their connection ahead of a likely wave of increased electricity demand, members of a city committee said Thursday.

Currently the costs of upsizing the size of wires, local transformers and home electrical panels is charged to the individual utility customer and can vary greatly depending on the particular circumstance.

Inquires to improve delivery to accommodate hot tubs, vehicle chargers, heat-pump furnaces or a host of “smart” devices are only likely to increase, said Coun. Robert Dumanowski.

“There are no alarm bells going off right now, but in short order this problem could compound,” he told the utility and infrastructure committee.

“If we’re going to be playing catch-up, I believe it’s time to formalize a plan to address it. If we don’t do it now we’re another two to four years behind.”

His motion asks staff to assess the potential scope of the work and costs.

If approved by council in September, administrators would also develop options for the city to promote upgrades at the initial construction stage and potentially offset some costs involved.

The next business plans for the city’s utility interests are now under development and come into effect for 2023 and 2024.

“It’s something that I expect there isn’t a utility in Canada that hasn’t given thought to this; when do we do it, how do we do it and how do we pay for it,” said division director Brad Maynes. “We have 30,000 customers, so this could be very expensive.

“Work has been done already.”

Since 2019, the city has recommended to developers that new subdivisions be built with conduit and wires to can accommodate 200 amp service, whereas the Canadian Electrical code only requires 100 amp service.

That is the standard in mature neighbourhoods, from which the power department has received 57 requests for higher load infrastructure at infill developments.

Ten of those request have moved ahead at an average cost of $2,500, but they ranged from a low of $750 to more than $10,000 when underground lines must be dug up and replaced.

As well, existing transformers on poles are rated to handle 10 connections at 100 amp service. When there is no more capacity and an upgrade is required, the work is charged entirely to the first customer making that request.

“So, if you’re the last one asking for power (on a transformer), you’re lucky, but if you’re next, you pay?” asked Coun. Andy McGrogan.

He felt there might be obvious problems with neighbours voluntarily going in together to pay for area upgrades.

The current policy was developed with “fairness” in mind for customers that might have no need for additional power, said director of Medicine Hat Power and Water, Grayson Mauch.

He stated 17 other requests were withdrawn when residents installed load-shedding devices to manage power draw in conjunction with existing panels.

“It’s a more economical solution,” he said.

Committee chair Alison Van Dyke requested staff explore the potential of using a local improvement tax model – a tactic commonly used for lane paving – to evenly spread the cost of transformer work among willing residents on the circuit.

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