(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series on issues with reliability of electrical service in Platte City).
Power outages that typically span several hours have plagued Platte City customers of Evergy, an electric services company, and Evergy officials have been hearing complaints from government officials, business owners and residents.
Evergy officials recently responded to a series of recent questions from The Landmark by saying that infrastructure improvements are coming, though it’s not clear how soon those improvements will be completed. Tree trimming projects around service lines will also occur in Platte City throughout this summer and fall, Evergy officials have also indicated.
The outages are not exactly a new experience in Platte City, as outages have periodically plagued downtown (where The Landmark office is located) for years. But the outages seem to be increasing in number and in length. Some customers have noted that there have been as many as four outages of eight hours or more over the past six months.
Evergy, Inc. is an American investor-owned utility with publicly traded stock that has its headquarters in Topeka, Kan., and in Kansas City, Mo. The company was formed from a merger of Westar Energy of Topeka and Great Plains Energy of Kansas City, Missouri, parent company of Kansas City Power & Light.
Some of the newer areas of Platte City along the southern city limits are served by Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative. Examples of areas served by Platte-Clay Electric would include Gates Drive West, Wyndham Townhomes on Devonshire, Eagle Ridge and Kempton Court, and several commercial parcels east of Running Horse Road and south of Running Horse Terrace.
Customers on the Platte-Clay Electric Service lines will tell you outages with Platte-Clay are extremely rare.
But the vast majority of Platte City residents and businesses are served by Evergy. DJ Gehrt, city administrator for the City of Platte City, says though Evergy may not view it this way, it is clear by the outage pattern between the two parts of town that Evergy has two distinct service areas within the city limits. One of the service areas has considerably more outages than the other.
According to Gehrt, the Evergy service area that suffers the most outages can be geographically described as the old/original town which is generally defined as north of Hwy. 92/downtown and south of Hwy. 92 along the Second and Fourth Street corridors. “Essentially everything west of the Platte County R-3 campus,” Gehrt explains.
The second service area described by Gehrt is the new parts of the city consisting of Windmill Creek, the Platte Valley Market retail area and the I-29 service area.
“This is generally along Hwy. 92 from the interstate to Marshall Road and includes Running Horse Road, Prairie View Road (McDonald’s to Roberts Chevrolet) and Platte Falls Road,” Gehrt says.
“The newer parts of the city (described as the second Evergy service area) have fewer power outages than the service to the original town area. The school district campus and the Wells Bank/Roxanne’s retail center are on the boundary between the two service area. In general it appears as if these two locations have fewer outages than the original town segment, however, there are times when these two areas (the school district and the Wells Bank retail strip) still have power when the old section is out and sometimes when these two sections lose power when the Platte Valley Market (Price Chopper) area still has power. Power outage impacts on these two boundary properties are very inconsistent,” Gehrt explained.
As reported in last week’s Landmark, the frequency of outages have prompted meetings between Gehrt, elected officials of Platte County (Platte City is the county seat and home to county administrative offices and a circuit courthouse) and representatives of Evergy.
“Evergy has identified tree interference as the largest single contributor to reliability problems on the downtown Platte City circuit,” Gehrt says.
Some customers are skeptical of that reasoning. That skepticism is further fueled when the lights flicker in downtown Platte City businesses when there are no storms or downed trees, which happened as recently as last Friday, July 1. A county official said the power also “flickered off” in the county offices early Friday afternoon.
Gehrt says in a recent meeting with city and county representatives, “Evergy committed to a full tree trimming program in Platte City this summer/fall. They are also rehabbing substations feeding Platte City, although not the substation at the orange water tower along Hwy. 92.”
The city administrator indicated the city was told by Evergy that rehab work should be done by October.
Evergy declined to get that specific on a timeline in answers to several questions that The Landmark posed to Gina Penzig, manager of external communications for Evergy. Penzig said nothing about of an estimated completion date of October.
“Our future infrastructure investment planned over the next 2-4 years includes improvements to the substation near Shiloh Springs Golf Course and adding a connection to a substation near Weston. These improvements will improve the reliability and capacity of electricity for the city,” Penzig said in an email response to a recent Landmark question.
Penzig said the substation at Shiloh Springs already “has two transformers to help support reliability.”
As reported in last week’s Landmark, Penzig confirmed Evergy has been meeting with city and county leaders who expressed concern about electricity reliability for Platte City.
“Providing reliable service to our customers is important to us. Evergy is taking immediate steps to improve reliability and planning infrastructure improvements that will improve long-term reliability, Penzig said in an email response to The Landmark.
Penzig mentioned trees.
“In addition to the emergency tree trimming to restore power after the storm, Evergy’s tree trimming contractor is working on additional clearing of limbs and vegetation away from power lines to reduce outages,” she said.
Penzig went on to explain that area construction work has impacted reliability issues.
“Construction work near the high school has contributed to some recent reliability issues. The work has forced some segments of power lines out of service. This limits our ability to reconfigure how power gets to certain areas if an outage occurs on the circuit serving them. The circuits impacted here were an alternate feed for power to some areas, which means without it they rely on a single circuit.”
Penzig added: “On June 9, customers experienced a long outage when a dump truck at the site damaged a power line. As part of the repairs from that incident, a temporary line had to be constructed to restore service. When construction of permanent new electric lines along this site is complete, we will return this area back to its normal configuration, which provides for alternate paths for service, and reliability will improve.”
In one email Penzig said the substation structure near the orange water tower was not the source of the problems, but in that same email said reclosers at that substation “are being upgraded.”
In another email answer to Landmark questions, Penzig explained that “five reclosers on circuits where outages occurred have been upgraded. Reclosers are high-voltage switches that operate similar to a circuit breaker in a home or business and help prevent further damage when a fault occurs.”
Penzig said that “reclosers that required a line crew or troubleshooter to go on-site to reset them have been upgraded for remote operation, which will help get power restored faster.”
Larger projects are also on the horizon, Penzig told The Landmark.
“Larger projects over the next few years will include rebuilding some aging lines and extending new circuits to provide redundancy to the area power grid, which helps support future growth and improve reliability,” she said in a June 21 emailed answer to Landmark questions.
Penzig said substation improvements “will also increase the capacity to meet the growing needs in the area.”