NW Energy ramping up infrastructure work
Feb 24, 2013 (The Montana Standard - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
NorthWestern Energy is ramping up investment in its distribution infrastructure statewide, including utility pole and gas line replacements this year across the company's Butte division. Locally, crews will inspect 700 wooden poles in the Mining City, Anaconda and out to Drummond, as well as work on gas located mains primarily in the Uptown Butte business districts.
The overhaul comes as part of NorthWestern's Distribution System Infrastructure Project, launched two years ago to ensure both safety and reliability for 525,300 customers in Montana.
The project will cost more than $300 million over the seven-year life of the program, and $66 million is slated in 2013. But NorthWestern believes this proactive approach will save on more expensive emergency repairs as the system continues to age.
"You can know our infrastructure will be reliable, safe and have the capacity you need as the city grows," CEO Bob Rowe said in a recent meeting with The Montana Standard editorial staff.
Montana is a large network for the number of customers it serves, Rowe said. NorthWestern has more than 17,000 miles of overhead and underground electric distribution lines spread over a 100,000-square-mile area, and another 5,000 miles in gas mains.
Yet, the company still measures its outages in just minutes per year, not hours per year, he said. DSIP will help maintain that reliability, in addition to ongoing regular maintenance.
The Butte division, which serves about 34,000 electric and 24,000 gas customers, will spend $2.2 million on pole replacements and $1.5 million replacing underground electric cable.
Utility poles are reaching the end of their useful life, according to construction manager Tom Moody. NorthWestern plans to replace the poles before they fail.
Workers will replace underground cable in locations in and out of Butte, including projects scheduled at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Anaconda and Georgetown Lake.
Gas main replacements, on the other hand, are concentrated primarily in Uptown Butte and at Montana Tech, Moody said. That is expected to run another $2.8 million.
"Our gas infrastructure is a combination of construction techniques used over the last 100 years," Moody told the Standard. "This project gives us the opportunity to upgrade the system to existing standards. It also gives us an opportunity to inspect our existing system."
DSIP should raise rates by $4.72 per month once the entire program is completed in 2017. Customers can expect a $2.04-per-month increase this year, by NorthWestern's estimates.
The Butte division is also continuing work this year at the Pacific Street Substation to handle increased electrical capacity to Uptown. Customers will benefit by the increasingly reliable service, Moody said.
"If you're responding to an outage in the middle of the night, the response time is much greater than if you're working proactively before something fails," he said.
John VanDaveer, manager of operations, said they will do their best to communicate any planned outages, road closures and have as little impact as possible on summer festival season.
This is the type of work NorthWestern already does consistently, VanDaveer said, but DSIP allows them to stay ahead of the curve.
"This program is essentially just acceleration so that we have a high level of competence in our system, and it can be what we all expect it to be," he said.
-- Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/@George_Plaven.
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(Butte, Mont.) at www.mtstandard.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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