A plan seven years in the works to improve the city's electric system took yet another turn Monday night.
City Council Monday night unanimously voted to approve two studies that will evaluate the city's electrical distribution system. City officials cited rising growth and demand in the south side of town as major reasons for the studies.
One study will look at the feasibility of building 161-kilovolt power lines in an existing Ameren corridor. This is a plan known as Option E in the city's efforts to build new lines on the south side of town. The city will pay Burns and McDonnell $95,515 for the study.
The other study by Quanta Technology will examine the reliability of the electrical distribution system in Columbia at a cost of $97,500.
Both were proposed by Columbia utilities staff in response to a lengthy deliberation over where to put new high-voltage transmission lines after initial plans to build them were put on hold.
Assistant Utilities Director Ryan Williams emphasized the importance of the Quanta grid study in addition to the Burns and McDonnell study, in case they found Option E to be unreliable.
He said the city has asked Quanta to look at other technologies the city could leverage like battery storage or solar options that could service the electric grid.
The original plans, known as Option A, would have connected a new Mill Creek substation to the Perche Creek substation to improve reliability. The city spent an estimated $7.3 million for studies along the route.
Residents in the area protested the plan, and council voted to hold off on it at its Jan. 19 meeting.
If Option E turns out to be unreliable in regards to load growth, many on the council expressed concern about the next steps. Council members asked about how to work jointly with Ameren, and what alternatives exist to Options A and E.
Mayor Brian Treece amended the bills to broaden the scope of the studies to include information on new options.
"It seems like we're still kind of floundering without clear direction to me," Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said.
Williams said that Quanta had estimated finishing their study within 10 weeks. The city expects a draft plan from Burns and McDonnell in December.
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