Numerous Concerns Identified
By Mari Radtke
Jeff Becthold of Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) delivered a verbal report to the council on Wednesday evening, September 8. Becthold explained he had conducted an inspection of the utility from the substation to transmission through about half of the distribution. Becthold started his report by telling the council that the substation was clean, in good repair and well functioning.
The transmission portion of the inspection brought the most concerns from Becthold. The 49 poles in need of replacement was not the biggest concern. Nor was the common existence of loose hardware such as bolts coming free. More detailed inspection and fumigation of transmission and distribution poles is scheduled for October or November.
A regular part of maintenance, according to Becthold, is testing of the switchgear and the breakers. Best practice is to keep detailed records of the testing results. He said that no records of any testing in at least 5 years could be found. Breakers and relays to the system, which would shut off electricity in the event of an overload or surge, are typically done and assessed for arc flash, which is part of OSHA standards. He also emphasized “the most important thing to me out there” are system maps. He said none can be located for the Primghar system. Their absence adds a layer of difficulty if an emergency brings lineman from other companies in the event of an emergency. He said that an engineer would need to draw maps.
Becthold reported that in the day he spent inspecting he was able to examine about half of the town. He noted the need for a lot of tree trimming. He mentioned some placement of different pole powers did not meet code and some moving of service is required. He showed pictures of instances of transformers leaking, corrosion and improper mounting.
The tools and equipment used by the city to maintain its utility service, he described as adequate and in good shape.
He also recognized that staffing is the biggest issue the city has at this time, and assured the council that Primghar is not alone. Some conversation about communities sharing staff took place. Becthold said it is happening and expects it to be a longer term trend. One drawback in sharing is that Primghar currently does not have anyone experienced with the system. More discussion took place between Becthold and the council about how MRES can assist with staffing, that it will be costly (market rate of employees) but could assist with getting the utility to meet code.
The cost to meet the needs of the utility is extraordinary and, if the city’s budget can support it, could be reached in 10 years. That is a minimum of time required.