2015-01-22 / Around Town

National Grid Plans $93 Million Island Overhaul

By Tom Walsh

National Grid, Rhode Island’s predominant electric utility, announced on Jan. 20 that it plans to spend $93 million over the next five years to overhaul Aquidneck Island service and make it safer and more reliable for the island’s 31,997 electricity customers.

“The electrical system that serves Aquidneck Island is outdated by today’s standards and is already stretched near to the limits of its intended capacity,” said Timothy F. Horan, National Grid president in Rhode Island. “Our planned upgrades mean that all of our customers on the island can expect that power will be more reliably delivered where and when it is needed and service restoration following interruptions will be accelerated.”

“It’s a total rebuild of the system, really,” said David Graves, National Grid spokesman. He said the current equipment, much of it in place since the 1940s, now carries 147 megawatts of power at peak times. “But there has been a tremendous amount of growth on the island over the years,” Graves said.

The new equipment, which will replace some wooden poles with metal structures, will enable National Grid to send 167 megawatts through the lines during peak demand periods.

“These will most likely occur on the hottest summer days,” Graves said. “It’s absolutely essential that we do this as demand counts grow and the equipment ages.”

According to Graves, the project— officially named the “Aquidneck Island Reliability Project” or “OnIsland”—will involve both transmission and distribution lines and eventually “deconstruct” five outdated island substations. The “typical” residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours a month will pay an extra 78 cents a month for that service.

The utility hopes to begin work this fall. However, the plan must first win approval from both the state Energy Facilities Siting Board and the Public Utilities Commission.

“A good chunk of the money for this is already built into the rates,” Graves said. Under the utility’s plan, the increase would be first felt by National Grid customers on April 1 of this year.

National Grid will conduct the first of several “community information sessions” on the plan Tuesday, Jan. 27, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the J.H. Gaudet Middle School, 1113 Aquidneck Ave., Middletown.

The utility intends to build two “state-of-the-art” substations with “remote operation capabilities," one each in Newport and Middletown. Two high-voltage transmission lines located in National Grid rightsof way between Portsmouth and Middletown will be reconfigured. And, finally, an “array” of local distribution lines will be upgraded in Newport and Middletown.

High-voltage transmission lines carry electricity over longer distances than distribution lines, which deliver service to individual residences and businesses in cities and towns.

Graves said National Grid studied Aquidneck Island’s electric service needs and decided that accomplishing this work in one large project made more sense than doing the jobs one by one. “This way it costs less and the overall design of these upgrades comes out better if you do it as one project,” he said.

Graves said National Grid officials have already briefed legislative leaders and that the company’s community relations staff has briefed some local officials.

“There’s no surprise in this,” Graves said. “It’s out there. People are aware of it.”

Island residents who have questions as the project unfolds can go to a special National Grid website, OnIslandNGRID.com for information. The utility has also set up two hotlines for telephone inquiries, 401-400-5862 or 800-568-4558. Graves said other communications tactics, such as a webinar, may also be used.

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