Liberty Pursuing Federal Grant Funds for Smart Grid Technology to Improve System Reliability
The Empire District Electric Company d/b/a Liberty is working to secure federal grant funding for a technology project that would make its distribution system smarter and more efficient in restoring power from certain types of outages without delay or human intervention. Distribution automation (DA) is one of many emerging smart grid technologies that U.S. utilities are deploying to improve reliability and service outcomes.
The company is applying for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) support through the Grid Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) grant program, enabled by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This and other related funding opportunities have been created by the federal government to modernize the country’s power grid, help it integrate more clean sources of generation and make it more resilient.
“Project DA” would deploy up to 250 distribution automation devices across its feeders in all four states served by Liberty. Known as autoreclosers, the devices are capable of restoring power automatically after clearing an electrical fault caused by events like tree branch, animal, or wind-blown debris contacts – which are among the top 10 causes of outages. This means fewer and shorter interruptions on the circuits where the devices can be placed, and lower operating costs as crews would not need to be dispatched to restore power for every outage. The company projects that the total outage times and incidences would be reduced by half if the program were implemented as conceived.
The proposed project is the continuation of Liberty’s concerted effort to modernize its distribution grid and prepare it for increasingly severe weather and greater integration of new technologies such as electric vehicles, distributed renewable generation, and battery storage. In 2021, the company installed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) across its service territory, which enables time-of-use billing, greater customer control of their energy usage, and provides the utility with a constant stream of valuable data that will help drive further system modernization.
Liberty plans to progress with DA projects irrespective of its ultimate ability to secure the DOE funding. However, the DOE’s participation would reduce the costs of this project by half and the work to be undertaken in a shorter timeframe.
Frequently Asked Questions
As conceived, the project would last five years, with the first year being dedicated to detailed design work, spot renewal, and reinforcement of line infrastructure before installing automation devices.
The company will proceed with DA work regardless. The grant would enable Liberty to continue investing in all of its other priorities while making a focused effort on making its grid smarter and more reliable.
While DA can help with outages on the local distribution network, it does not eliminate outages that may happen higher upstream, such as on the transmission system.
As with the rest of its capital program, Liberty would make applications to the appropriate state regulatory commissions for the recovery of the remaining costs, subject to their findings of prudence through a detailed public review of the company’s costs and service delivery outcomes.
If approved, the project will create additional jobs in construction, warehousing and supporting industries including transportation, hospitality, and others. It will also help reduce power interruptions that negatively affect both businesses and families. Liberty is seeking a variety of community partnerships to explore and deliver various other types of benefits.
As proposed, there will be multiple work sites throughout the company’s service territory. Watch this space for further project updates.
Project Distribution Automation (DA): In Brief
- Project DA seeks to install smart grid devices capable of automatically restoring power after certain types of outages across multiple locations in the four states served by Liberty.
- The devices – known as autoreclosers – are capable of clearing power-line faults caused by tree, animal, or debris contacts and restore power service without human intervention.
- The project proposal is being submitted as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s infrastructure grant program. If selected, it would contribute up to half of the project’s cost.
- The project would create local jobs and additional training for qualified trades and apprentices, as well as opportunities in other technical, supply chain and hospitality fields.
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