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GUC board approves purchase to help keep the lights on

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Tony Cannon

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hurricane preparedness was on everyone’s mind at Greenville Utilities’ Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday.

The board approved an equipment purchase that will help keep the lights on if a substation floods and learned how GUC employees are helping neighboring counties.

General Manager/CEO Tony Cannon briefed the board on the organization’s preparations for Hurricane Florence and its activities in surrounding communities at its monthly board meeting on Thursday.

Cannon said when early forecasts showed Florence as a category 4 hurricane passing over Greenville, crews positioned utility poles, transformers and other equipment across its service area. The process not only helped prepare electric workers for restoration work, it was the first stage in the possible evacuation of the Mumford Road operations center, which flooded following Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“It makes me so proud when you see the team come together and execute a plan like that,” Cannon said.

When the hurricane shifted south, leaving Greenville out of its immediate path, Cannon said senior leaders within the electric division stepped back and allowed younger staff members to direct operations, offering coaching when necessary.

Cannon said it was a good way to pass along institutional knowledge and prepare the next generation of leaders for storm management.

“We were spared. The winds didn’t get as bad as we thought, the rains didn’t get as bad as we thought it would,” Cannon said. “We got 10 inches of rain, it caused us some issues but the operations center didn’t flood.”

As the storm approached on Thursday night, electric crews started repairing downed electric lines. Sustained winds never surpassed 35 mph, which is when crews are called back in, allowing them to mostly work through the night.

By 5 p.m. Friday electricity was restored to most GUC customers, Cannon said. This allowed crews from Leesburg, Fla., and the Greeneville, Tenn., area to deploy to other communities, he said.

GUC employees recommended sending extra ice, drinks and snacks purchased to feed GUC crews to help out New Bern utility crews, Cannon said.

On Wednesday, electrical crews were dispatched to New Bern to help with underground repairs and restoration of a substation. A water resources team was sent to help Onslow County Water and Sewer Authority.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to help those in need,” Cannon said.

Duke Energy Progress, with GUC’s help, set up set up a temporary emergency operations center near GUC’s Mumford Road substation.

“You’re going to see a small city with enough storage and facilities so they can feed and take care of their crews out of there,” he said.

“Right now there are about 200 crews, probably 500 linemen staying in Greenville every night,” Cannon said. “They had to get somewhere with enough rooms that had power and water and restaurants where these guys can eat at so they can go work in the areas where they don’t.”

Cannon said he expects Duke will be at the location for one to two weeks and will move on once service is restored to flood-damaged areas.

While GUC’s service area was spared flooding damage this time, the system remains vulnerable.

GUC receives electricity from Duke Energy Progress at a 230 kV point of delivery substation located on Mumford Road.

During Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew flood waters damaged equipment at the location, jeopardizing Duke’s ability to serve the site, said Roger Jones, director of electric systems.

Since Hurricane Floyd, GUC had added two additional substations to the system to backup the Mumford Road site.

When flooding from Matthew put the Mumford Road substation at risk, GUC officials explored additional ideas for offsetting possible damage to the facility. The recommendation was to add a 230 kilovolt autotransformer and associated equipment to the substation on MacGregor Downs Road to ensure electric service would continue if the Mumford Road site flooded.

The board unanimously approved purchasing the autotransformer for $1.58 million from WEG Transformers. The project now goes to Greenville City Council for final approval.

The board also unanimously approved a natural gas franchise agreement with the Town of Ayden.

GUC has provided natural gas services to customers within the town of Ayden since 2000, when a natural gas line — at the request of the Pitt County Development Commission — was extended to a site south of the town, said Chris Padgett, chief administrative officer.

A formal natural gas franchise agreement was never enacted. GUC and the town started discussing an agreement so natural gas services could be provided to new customers within the town’s corporate limits using its streets, alleys and public ways, Padgett said.

The agreement, which the Ayden Board of Commissioners approved on Sept. 10, grants GUC authority to build and maintain a natural gas system within the town, ensures Ayden customers are charged the same rate as other GUC customers and holds the town free and harmless from claims associated with GUC’s service.

Padgett said the agreement also has a provision that town administrators will be notified whenever GUC conducts a customer survey so Ayden employees can respond if people come to town hall with questions.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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