Electrical substations aren't sexy, but they're essential to keeping Buffalo Niagara's economy plugged in.
They're also plenty exciting to John Bruckner, the president of National Grid's New York operations. To Bruckner, the new substation, which will serve big industrial customers, like General Mills and Archer-Daniels-Midland, also is a key step in making sure that Buffalo has an adequate – and reliable – electricity supply as the downtown area rebounds.
Bruckner talked about the importance of the company's Ohio Street substation – now under construction off Fuhrmann Boulevard and part of National Grid's broader $2 billion program to upgrade its aging electricity transmission grid – during a recent stop in Buffalo.
What does the new substation mean for National Grid and the region?
It's not enough to put in equipment to feed the new growth. It's more important that we think about it in terms of how do we build the system to sustain the growth that's here and stay ahead of it, but also to reinforce it and make it more reliable.
There's also another component to it. We're not building it just for today. This is a microcosm for what's being done here in Buffalo. If you go downtown, you see the construction. This enables the construction, but moreso, it enables the growth of the city.
How does the substation fit in within National Grid's broader power transmission system?
This is just another one of the components of the grid. You think about the power demanded in an area, not only in terms of energy but in terms of reliability.
You're taking power from the grid, irrespective of that power source, whether it's renewable or from a conventional power plant. You have to get it to the area. So you have this whole transmission network to get it here.
We have to bring it into these communities at a level where they can operate with it. What you're seeing is Phase Two of that process.
What does a substation do?
You have the transmission that comes in with these 115-kilovolt lines that are coming here from Gardenville [a substation in West Seneca that also is being upgraded by National Grid]. It's bigger. We do the same things there.
Our customers don't take power at, say, 345,000 volts. The power here comes in at 115,000 volts. Just to put it in perspective, your home is 120 volts. It will come into the substation. It will have transformers to bring the voltage down and it will go out at 34,400 volts. So it's still extremely high voltage.
We site it by the transmission lines. Why? Cost. We're also going to be serving the load in this area. But again, it's serving the load in this area, but there's also a bigger picture: It's also taking taking off load from adjacent substations, as well, which provides greater capabilities for growth. This area is going to grow.
We have to have power supply and substations as close to the load as possible, just reliability-wise and for capacity reasons.
How will the new substation improve the reliability of National Grid's system?
Our control house will have technology that is far more reliable and sensitive than what we've had in the past. It's not just about replacing capacitors with new equipment. We're taking an old substation and putting new assets in it that have greater reliability and greater capacity, as well. It's all digital, high-tech.
If there's a problem on the system, like if lightning hits one of these lines, it takes out the line. It's going to have state-of-the-art control and protection equipment.
With the new technology, you're talking about clearing these faults and eliminating that interruption in a fraction of a second. It doesn't seem like a big deal to us, but if you think about the impact on the customer's tooling, that fraction of time is the difference between a significant amount of damage on a production line and minimizing it.
At your home, don't get me wrong, it's an inconvenience. But for some of our large customers in the region, you're talking about millions of dollars in market loss, in productivity loss.
How does this fit in with National Grid's ongoing program to upgrade its aging transmission facilities?
In New York alone, in upstate, we're investing in this rate plan about $2 billion. Buffalo has seen a lot of that investment over the last couple of years. It's to replace what we had, but to make it better.
What's the timetable for completing the substation?
Next year at this time it will be in service.