Ensuring Safe, Reliable Electricity for Generations to Come: Ulteig Helps Redding Electric Utility Build a 10-Year Grid Modernization Plan

December 14, 2021

Redding, California — Imagine if you had the opportunity to ensure that the next generation, and the generation after that, will be able to turn on the lights in their homes fully confident that safe, reliable and affordable electricity will be there to power their homes and their community.

That’s exactly what the Ulteig Grid Modernization and Asset Management teams had the opportunity to do in working with the engineers and managers of Redding Electric Utility (REU), the public utility that powers the city of Redding, population 91,000, located in northern California, about a 2.5-hour drive north of Sacramento.

Current and Future Challenges

Facing a number of future challenges, REU, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, realized that it needed a plan to modernize its power grid to meet the needs of its residential, business and industrial customers. The first step in doing this was to partner with a consultant to develop a 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and a 10-year Distribution Modernization Program (DMP).  After conducting a competitive review process, Ulteig was selected in December 2020 for this ambitious project.

“Like many utilities across the country, REU understood that its infrastructure – its poles, transmission lines, substation equipment, communications equipment and more – was aging and not delivering the same level of performance as it had 10 years ago,” said Dwain Botelho, Ulteig’s Market Development Manager-Northwest Region.

While striving to meet the expectations of its customers today and tomorrow, the public utility also considered a number of other factors that it, and its owner, the City of Redding, were facing, including:

  • The threat of wildfires to the utility
  • Aging infrastructure exceeding its useful life
  • The threat of severe weather
  • Lack of grid edge visibility
  • Decreasing service reliability
  • Increasing Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) creating bi-directional power flow on the distribution grid
  • Meeting regulatory requirements

“Like many cities, there are many potential current threats that could disrupt power now,” said Josh Guck, P.E., an Engineering Supervisor with Ulteig’s Grid Modernization team. “At the same time, the utility’s managers have an eye on future changes that could impact the electric grid, such as the growth in electric vehicles (EVs). But for right now, the key to this project was to enhance the performance of the utility to safely, reliably and efficiently deliver power today.”

Collaborating to Find Solutions That Work

The goal of the project was to develop a CIP for the next five years while creating a DMP for the next 10 years. The Ulteig team needed to prepare a document that REU leaders could present to the city council with a specific recommendation and justification for an amount to spend on modernizing the service area’s electrical power grid.

“We worked closely with the Redding Electric Utility team to build a plan that would meet the needs of today’s residents and set the stage for future modernization efforts to meet the needs of future generations,” said Botelho.

To build a forward-looking plan, the Ulteig team needed to feed its planning process with insightful information and details to help it see around corners. The team’s research included:

  • Reviewing GIS electric models
  • Reviewing construction standards
  • Identifying key metrics upon which to improve for the next 10 years
  • Identifying project priorities
  • Conducting interviews with engineering staff, operations managers, and REU’s distribution design supervisors

“We took a close look at the utility’s assets and how to manage those assets over time,” said Guck. “For example, we analyzed the lifespan of their existing poles, many of which were over 60 years old, with an Ulteig developed GIS tool.”

The age and deterioration of power generation and transmission assets is unique to every utility. In the case of REU, most of its power infrastructure was installed during the 1950s and 1960s, as the city experienced its greatest growth. Maintenance was being done on an as needed basis. In other words, if things were working, no need to repair. As an example of some of the criteria involved in the assessment, the Ulteig team evaluated the following:

Aging Underground Cables — The Ulteig team assessed the condition of the city’s underground electrical cable system and the likelihood of cable failure within the next five to 10 years, since it was mostly installed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The same analysis was applied to other assets, such as poles, transmission lines and substation assets.

Fire Mitigation — With fire mitigation as one of the utility’s top priorities, the DMP Ulteig developed recommended deploying line sensors, arc-resistant fusing, and operating feeders in two Tier 3 fire zones to reduce the risk of fire creation. The fire mitigation considerations also included a strategic undergrounding plan – putting lines running through trees underground.

System Visibility and Reliability Improvements – In modernizing REU’s electrical grid, it became evident that the utility lacked visibility to the loads on their system. The DMP recommended deploying line sensors and microprocessor relays in conjunction with a Remote Metering Infrastructure project currently in progress to give the utility’s engineers more visibility to the grid edge. The increased visibility will help with the outage response process allowing crews to quickly locate where a fault has occurred, and the additional data points will help in the planning process when assessing the needs for infrastructure improvements.

Unanimous Approval!

Based on the information and insights gathered, the Ulteig team worked closely with the REU staff to develop a prioritization matrix that assessed the potential benefit that an individual project would provide to the REU electric grid. The results of the matrix outputs were used for guidance in preparing the assessment report to summarize its findings, considerations, project scopes and budget estimates.

Focusing on the first five years, a CIP was presented to the Redding City Council in early August 2021. It received unanimous approval for the largest Distribution Improvement budget to be spent over the next five years to modernize the REU electric grid. This amount is approximately three times more than REU’s regular annual budget.

Now, REU, with Ulteig’s assistance, can look forward to implementing this robust grid modernization program, which, when complete, will increase the safety, the efficiency and the effectiveness to deliver power to Redding, California, as the city continues to grow and as it faces a wide range of changes, from climate change to the growth of electric vehicles.

“By taking a proactive approach to the future, Redding Electric Utility will be better positioned to deliver the reliability its customers are counting on, while positioning itself to meet the needs of the future grid,” said Guck.

Learn more about Ulteig’s Long-Term Planning Capabilities

Do you need engineers who embrace a futures mindset and can help your utility think forward five, ten or even 30 years ahead? With more than 75-years experience in serving utilities, Ulteig engineers combine their expertise in power engineering with a futures mindset that helps utilities anticipate future needs while addressing issues that may have an immediate or near-term impact. Learn more about Ulteig’s Grid Modernization and Asset Management capabilities.

  • Grid Modernization