The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 06, 2018

BWL spreading lots of capital for construction in our capital city

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - There are 40 public-owned utilities in Michigan, and the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL), with a $350 million annual budget and 97,000 electric customers, is larger than all of them combined.

While the big public-owned utilities like DTE Energy and MichCon supply the vast majority of electrical power to customers in Michigan - and provide thousands of jobs every year to building trades union workers - the BWL shouldn't be forgotten as the major utility player, and employer in our state's capital city.

BWL General Manager Dick Peffley told delegates to the 59th Legislative Conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council that the utility spends between $70 million to $90 million annually on capital projects. "We do it every year, and we do it with you folks doing the work for us," Peffley told delegates on March 6. "We wouldn't be the utility we are without that. We don't have the internal support workforce and we can't staff for those kinds of peaks and valleys in our workload without relying on the tradespeople, and they answer the call each and every time. It's just a great relationship, and it's been that way."

Peffley offered the delegates a look back at what the utility and its partners in the building trades have done in the past few years, and what it plans to do over the next five years as part of its $101 million Lansing Energy Tomorrow initiative. The plan includes electrical infrastructure work, as well as a transitioning away from coal as a fuel for the utility's aging coal plants in favor of natural gas and renewable power produced by wind and the sun.   

In 2013, the BWL and the building trades got the BWL's ball moving away from coal, completing a natural gas-fired, combined-cycle, $182 million, 100-megawatt power plant in south Lansing’s REO Town. Just prior to that, the trades erected a $20 million chilled water building on Pine and Allegan streets in Lansing, to allow the utility to air condition downtown buildings.

Now the Lansing Energy Tomorrow plan will add nearly 85 megawatts of wind to the BWL's current use of 20 megawatts. Feeding power to the BWL will be the largest tracking solar array in Michigan, with construction set to begin this spring in on the west side of Lansing. A tracking system improves efficiency by allowing solar panels to track and face the sun throughout the day. In Tuscola County, construction on a large windmill farm is set to begin in the next few weeks. "That is all clean energy that will come back to our customers here," Peffley said. "Next year we will start to experiment with battery technology to see if we can store some of this energy."

But the next really big thing for the BWL is a new $500 million, 250 megawatt gas-fired power plant that will be built at the site of its coal-fired Erickson Power Plant in Delta Twp. The work is expected to be complete by 2021. It is part of the BWL's plan to completely end the use of its Eckert and Ericson coal-burning plants by 2025.

Moving that power where it needs to go in Lansing requires some upgrading of system hardware, a process which is under way.

"So we're building a new substation, remodeling substations, and running a new 138,000 (KW) line through town, the West Side Reinforcement," Peffley said. "What that will do is increase reliability. We have one circuit around town that went in in the 1970s, and we haven't been able to work on it because we haven't been able to shut it off, because you can't shut people's power off. So we're building a new circuit around town that will go live in June - and it also right now is on track, on budget. That's a common thing you're going to hear here."

Peffley said a new Central Substation project at Washington Square and Malcolm X Boulevard will supply energy to a third of the BWL's downtown Lansing customers. He said it will replace an existing substation that was built in the 1950s in what now is a floodplain. "It has lived its life so we're building a new one," he said. "And it's your folks who are out there doing the work."

FOUNDATION FORM WORK by Michigan Regional Carpenters Council members, Laborers and Operating Engineers Local 324 members continued throughout the winter at the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s new Central Substation project. The $27.9 million substation will increase electrical reliability in the city and use modern technology to help restore power faster when outages occur. Looming south in the background are the triple stacks of the BWL’s coal-burning Eckert Plant, which is slated to be retired.

READY TO PLACE conduit in what will be the south wall of Lansing Board of Water and Light’s new Central Substation is Landon Spitzley of IBEW Local 665. He’s employed by Swan Electric.