WREA substation needed but location is uncertain

MEEKER I The site of a new electrical substation hasn’t been determined, nor has a decision been made on when one will be built.
But one thing is for certain: There is a need for an additional substation for the town of Meeker.
“A new substation will be built,” said attorney Trina Zagar-Brown, who represents White River Electric Association. “It has to be built.”
Dick Welle, general manager for WREA, added: “That decision, that a substation needs to be built, has been made.”
However, as far as when a new substation will be built, that decision hasn’t been made.
“There is no definite timeline. It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow,” Welle said. “But one thing that keeps pushing us is the load growth in the town of Meeker.”
Existing demand, along with anticipated future growth, are two of the reasons for building a new substation, as well as providing some redundancy, or distance from the existing substation.
“We’re about at capacity at the Meeker substation west of town,” Welle said. “The town is all on a single transformer. That’s our job, to look out for the future needs of Meeker. But we don’t want it to be perceived (the new substation) is being built for growth. This is about existing demand, reliability and then growth. Those are the things that prioritizes the need.
“This substation, while we’re building it for the existing town needs, will also … be a backup for (the existing) substation and allow for future growth. We get that reliability by not being in the same site as the (current) substation. You build another substation somewhere and you get that distance reliability. A second substation gives us other options to minimize outages. This reliability would really help us to keep the lights on.”
One of the sites being considered for the new substation is across the road from the entrance to the Sage Hills subdivision. A letter to the editor in last week’s Herald Times from residents of the area opposed the idea of building a substation in that location.
“While we agree that another substation is needed, we think it is more than obvious that it would be an eyesore in this residential neighborhood, especially in light of the fact that several other sites are being considered,” said J.D. “Doc” Watson, who along with his wife, Debbie, are residents of Sage Hills.
The Watsons were among the Sage Hills residents who met last week with WREA officials to discuss the plans for a new substation.
“I hope they feel like they were heard,” WREA general manager Welle said of the meeting with residents of the area. “We tried to answer every question they asked of us. It was a very positive meeting.
“Our survey markers (at the Sage Hills site) is what folks saw and it alarmed them,” Welle said. “We welcomed their comments. The true definition of member owners is that they get to be heard.”
A response from WREA appears in this week’s “Letters to the Editor” section.
“We are trying to get the word out,” Welle said. “To let people know we listened, that we understand your concerns and we’ve tried to answer your questions.”
Of the meeting with WREA officials, Sage Hills resident “Doc” Watson said, “While we were treated very cordially, and while we were assured our comments were welcome, we are still very concerned whether our concerns will make any difference. As we pointed out to them, and they acknowledged, there is a lot of open space around here, so the substation would therefore not need to be in anyone’s ‘backyard.’”
Welle is empathetic to the residents’ concerns.
“We know a substation looks like a substation,” Welle said. “We understand it is beautiful only to us, but it is very necessary to fulfill our obligation to the members to provide them with reliable power.”
As far as a site for a new substation, Welle said the Sage Hills location, along Sulphur Creek Road, is one of the sites being considered. He didn’t identify the other sites.
“We anticipated that’s where the site would be, but we’re doing more evaluation of that site and potentially others,” Welle said. “The future growth of Meeker will go to the northeast. It’s always been considered that future growth would go that way. It’s logical that’s where you would want to site another facility, where you anticipate the load will be.
“I don’t think White River’s crystal ball is any clearer than anyone else’s for 10 years out, but we need to think about the future and what’s the best investment for our customers,” Welle said. “That’s why we are looking at possible options, so all of the best possible facts are considered.”
The land at the entrance of Sage Hills was purchased by WREA eight years ago.
“Since 2002, we have identified a need, potentially, for a substation in that region,” Welle said. “This wasn’t an overnight decision. It has been contemplated for quite awhile.”