Gulf Power Company will spend $83 million over five years, to upgrade its electricity grid in downtown Pensacola.
The project is part of an overall, $225 million makeover across the utility’s 460,000 customer service area. According to spokesman Jeff Rogers, the current system is well beyond retirement age.
“While there’s a very sophisticated underground network in downtown Pensacola, parts of it are 70 years gold,” said Rogers. “They’ve been well maintained and updated, but it is time for a complete overhaul.”
The project aims to improve reliability and redundancy, and allow room for growth as the area itself grows. Gulf Power is working with the city to set up the logistics.
“As we go under streets and under sidewalks and coordinating with traffic, etc. to make sure this is being done right,” Rogers said. “It’s being very well planned, and I think what we’ll see at the end of this massive project is even increased reliability.”
Rogers says the downtown area will have the same “smart grid” generating and distribution gear that’s already installed across much of the Gulf Power service area from Pensacola to just east of Tallahassee.
“Self-healing mechanisms like re-closers that can detect faults and make corrections without even having to send a crew out,” Rogers said. “Communications equipment will be added there. Most importantly, a lot of the old conductor in some places is cracking and deforming. All that will be replaced.”
“[Gulf Power] came to us; they let us know they had a lot of infrastructure in the downtown area that they needed to replace,” said Pensacola City Administrator Eric Olson. “We certainly agree with them that it’s important for the future growth of the city.”
One issue that will have to be resolved, is how to handle the recently paved and built streets and sidewalks.
“So we have a lot of discussion with them on how to do that in a way that will restore it back,” said Olson.
Lessons learned during the re-paving project, says Olson, will be applied to keeping downtown businesses advised on the upcoming Gulf Power project.
“We would send out a letter two weeks in advance; then a day before the actual work was being done, the contractors went door-to-door,” said Olson. We found out that, in most things, if you try to communicate up front, certainly they don’t like the disruption, but they understand that they’re going to be better off.”
This is the second round of work by Gulf Power in downtown Pensacola. Crews last summer replaced and consolidated a number of utility poles, with some overhead line crossings and transformers removed for aesthetics and better efficiency.
“It seems like we’re constantly updating our system, and that’s what you get when you’re a company that’s nearly 100 years old,” said Gulf Power spokesman Jeff Rogers. “Every year, we’re updating substations and transmission lines. The reliability numbers are the proof in the pudding; our reliability has increased sharply since undertaking a lot of these needed improvements.”
When the project is complete, City Administrator Eric Olson hopes it sends a message to everyone about growth in downtown Pensacola.
“If you’re thinking about coming into downtown, you’re a business or you’re a resident, you know you’ve got a reliable, robust, upgraded electrical infrastructure,” Olson said. “And that’s a selling point for anybody who’s looking at our area.”