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2021 Budget Includes Plans for Innovation and Technology

  • Posted: 01.21.2021

At the October 2020 Board Meeting, Directors approved several 2021 capital projects. Among them are a handful of projects that will introduce innovative technologies across multiple facets of NIPCO’s operations that will serve the membership far into the future. These projects will improve grid resiliency, operational efficiency, and energy consumption, as well as deepen the cooperative’s understanding of electric storage technology and how it will benefit consumers.

Grid Modernization

NIPCO’s ongoing, multi-year construction plan has been addressing immediate and long-term needs facing NIPCO’s aging infrastructure for several years. The three-year Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hazard mitigation project which retrofitted 151 miles of NIPCO’s oldest transmission lines was completed in 2014. At the same time, NIPCO received the green light from its board to continue upgrade efforts across the system. The plan focusses efforts to modernize transmission infrastructure that is over 50 years old and was part of NIPCO’s original build.

For NIPCO, construction projects focus primarily on rebuilding substations, transmission lines, and switches to incorporate newer technologies that improve power delivery capacity and physical strength, as well as improve communications features.

During the upgrade at Hospers Substation, near Hospers, Iowa, an older meter relay building is removed, left, to make way for a newer, larger, and more sturdy structure, right. (Photos contributed: Roger Armstrong)

Increasing the footprint for substations allows for better access by line crews, newer and larger control buildings that house modern SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) equipment, installation of fiber-optics for improved communications, and the integration of enhanced security measures.

Transmission lines are being rebuilt to address sections of line that have reached end-of-service life, to increase power flow capacity and improve ice and wind loading. In some cases, line sections are being relocated to allow ease of access for line crews and minimize impact to landowners.

Approximately 43 miles of transmission line and two transmission substations are scheduled for upgrade in 2021. In addition, four distribution substations will undergo complete upgrades, as well as all oil reclosers will be replaced with new gas-type reclosers at twenty-plus distribution substations. Continued rebuild of the transmission line is expected for the next nine to eleven years. Following the Board’s approval of the 2021 rebuild plan, President Louis Reed (WIPCO) expressed his appreciation to the NIPCO staff for addressing the updating of ongoing infrastructure and improving the system’s resiliency through construction projects.

Control Center Upgrade

While grid improvements remain a priority, NIPCO’s Control Center will be enhanced with an upgraded Map Board System. Existing television video monitors located on one wall in the Control Center have been in operation “24/7” for more than seven years and are reaching end of life. Over the course of NIPCO’s 72-year history, there have been multiple designs of large-scale system maps that have served control center operators, engineers, and operations personnel.

In this 1968 photo, Control Operator Ben Jordall stands in front of the original NIPCO Map Status Board, installed in 1967. It indicated the condition or status of the NIPCO system twenty-four hours a day. It is a miniaturized to-scale duplication of the entire NIPCO system.

The current analog mosaic map, which replaced the previous status map (pictured above), was installed in 1989 and has served operators well over the last three decades. As electric utilities have moved to more sophisticated and versatile digital mapping systems, components and software used to support the outdated mosaic map are no longer available or supported.

A small section of the mosaic map is pictured to show the level of detail included to assist operators in identifying system status. Colored lights indicate operational conditions of electric infrastructure on the system.

The map is used by control center operators, engineers, and line crew every day to identify, direct, and manage outage events, whether controlled or unexpected. System maps are an essential tool to provide situational awareness and aid in providing a visual representation of NIPCO’s electric infrastructure and its operational status. Twelve 55” LED (light-emitting diode) monitors will be utilized to provide operators with a system to monitor security camera video, real-time weather and alerts, system equipment status and maps, and other data. Upgrading the technology in the NIPCO Control Center will greatly enhance operational measures that maintain system reliability and ensure safety of NIPCO crews. Installation is expected to be complete by April 2021.

Photo image of a control operator, seated at a desk, with multiple 55-inch monitors in front of him, displayed on a wall.
While still in the design-phase of the Control Center upgrade, NIPCO control operators may see a status map board and other digital data displayed on a configuration that might look something like this image, above.

Battery Storage as Part of Load Management Strategy

NIPCO engineers have been hard at work understanding how a Basin Electric Policy allowing Class C Members a 150kW (kilowatt) allocation of battery storage can be utilized to provide the best “bang for its buck” across the NIPCO membership. In 2020, a concept was presented to the NIPCO Managers Group and, upon receiving a green light from Member Managers, was recommended to the NIPCO Board of Directors who approved the plan.

Artist rendering of the utility-scale Tesla battery storage unit.
NIPCO Directors have approved the purchase of a 975kW Tesla Battery Storage Unit, like this one, to be connected to the low-side feeder of a substation within NIPCO's territory. Savings from avoided demand charges will be passed along to NIPCO members and, ultimately, the end-user. (Photo: Tesla)

Engineers proposed the idea for NIPCO members to pool their individual allocations, thus allowing NIPCO to incorporate a 975kW Tesla® Battery Storage Unit to be connected to the low-side feeder of a select distribution substation, within the NIPCO system. The plan enables NIPCO to utilize battery storage as a part of NIPCO’s overall load management strategy. The battery would be discharged to flatten secondary peaks before and after a NIPCO-initiated load control event. The stored energy from the battery would supplant power being demanded of the substation for six hours beyond the scheduled load control cycle, thus resulting in almost one megawatt of reduced consumption (the equivalent to powering approximately 120 homes!) and avoided purchased power costs. The increased savings would be socialized across the membership and, ultimately, benefitting members at the end of the line.

Ongoing performance data of the battery and its ability to serve load, flatten demand curves and use existing generating resources more efficiently will be shared with the membership.

Close-up photo of an electric vehicle being charged
Image: Ford Motor Company

Electric Vehicle to be Introduced to NIPCO Fleet

NIPCO was also pleased to receive formal approval by the NIPCO Directors to proceed with the purchase of an electric vehicle (EV) to be introduced into the cooperative’s transportation fleet. The passenger class vehicle model has not, yet, been determined as staff is still conducting research on the latest EV technology offered and how it will best benefit NIPCO and the membership. NIPCO is also working to identify additional opportunities to advance education and awareness of EV technology and systems to meet the anticipated increase in adoption in western Iowa.

What Lies Ahead

As NIPCO prepares for its upcoming strategic planning and considers innovative opportunities to serve its members into the future, investments into projects such as these are just the first steps into how the G&T cooperative will support the next generation of rural electric cooperatives and their service to western Iowa. NIPCO looks forward to providing ongoing coverage of these exciting projects in future editions of the NIPCO Network News.