We have written before about the City Council’s January 2016 decision to pause construction on a much needed substation and transmission line with no alternative plan in place. Two years have passed and we still do not have a plan, nor have we received the benefit of paying the higher rates that were put in place to fund the construction.
In recent months, some council members have suggested this substation and line project was never really needed. That is incorrect as is explained in this op-ed which was recently published in the Columbia Tribune. We are running out of the capacity to reliably deliver electricity downtown, and straining the grid throughout the South and Southwest.
And we still do not have a plan. We do have a new planning process (still to be defined) and we continue to spend on researching alternatives. We paid $10,000 to Ameren for an additional study of the proposed “Option E” concept and in September of 2017 the council approved an additional $95,515 to further study that Option, which Ameren has estimated would cost $25 million for 10 miles of line (an estimate that does not appear to include the city’s costs of acquiring easements). That Option also would not solve the substation overloading issue. The City and Ameren are also exploring building a new switchyard and substation in west Columbia and then running a new 161 kV line into the Perche Creek substation.
The proposed “purpose and scope” describing the new planning process that was attached to the January 2, 2018 memo to the city council noted that the studies for Option E would be incorporated into the new planning process but did not mention also incorporating the engineering and surveying for the original project which cost more than $2 million. Why? A January 2018 5th Ward newsletter suggested that the original plan had been abandoned, and a 12/22/17 staff memo suggested it had been “canceled”. When? By whom? (There have not been subsequent council hearings or votes). Why wouldn’t all options remain on the table as we consider what would best meet our needs?
What is occurring on this issue falls short of the straightforward, open dialogue that citizens want and need on our infrastructure issues. As was recommended in past forums, we would benefit from a more citizen-centered planning process that is proactive, transparent, and focused on ensuring the key needs are timely met in a cost-effective way