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Murray renewable energy supply to top 50 percent by next year

Nov 01, 2017 09:45AM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

Charging up the crowd. Journeyman linemen Jimmy Prindiville demonstrates a transformer arcing. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

Gallery: Electrical Arc [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

Even with a giant 7200-volt electrical spark flowing through him, the dummy with the pineapple head retained his smile, but he was a little crispier. 

Jimmy Prindiville and Justin “Huggie” Larsen, journeyman linemen with Murray City Power, put on a show for onlookers at Public Power Week held September 10–16. They demonstrated the dangers of live power lines by carefully connecting wire to their volunteer, a dummy consisting of a PVC pipe body, a pineapple noggin and a hotdog arm. Larsen then threw the switch, delighting the crowd with an ethereal electrical arc.

“Now you see why you should never touch a wire that you are unsure about,” Prindiville cautioned the children sitting in the front row.

Public Power Week was the capstone celebration of an eventful year for Murray City Power. Of particular note are new contracts with large community solar facilities in central and southern Utah to supply Murray with solar power, which adds an extra 5 percent to Murray’s renewable resources. That extra 5 percent will bring Murray’s total renewable energy supply to over 50 percent, possibly the best in Utah.

According to Murray Power General Manager Blaine Haacke, “I think the solar market will continue to be in our future vision. We will have to do better at integrating rooftop solar production efficiently into our grid. We see the need to purchase interest in large-scale, utility-sized plants. But also, we see the need to allow the average citizen the opportunity to buy solar through us.”

The new contracts will enable Murray Power to offer a small portion of this solar contract to the average Murray citizen, so they can participate in purchasing solar energy to cover their power needs. This will allow an apartment dweller, for example, to buy solar without having panels on the roof.  

“We think this will be a good citizen program,” exclaimed Haacke.

While solar has many benefits, it can also be a challenge for the power system. 

“Solar, because of its inconsistency, gives us headaches. So we will have to schedule more efficiently to take advantage of solar ups and downs,” remarked Haacke. 

Customers with rooftop solar units can expect some changes to the rooftop solar rate plan. The plan is forthcoming and the changes will be considered by the city council and Mayor for approval by the year’s end. 

Murray is also looking at other renewable options including compressed air storage,  biomass and wind technologies. Additionally, as a member of the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), Murray is investigating a long-term contract to use small nuclear reactors at a site in Idaho Falls. This new technology is carbon-free and is under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Although Murray is a relatively minor member of UAMPS, small nuclear may still become part of Murray’s energy mix within the next 10 years.

Murray power officials are seeking out these renewable and alternate energy sources as they anticipate future power needs. For example, they assume that there will be increased use of electric vehicles in Murray, which will place more demand on Murray’s power grid.

“Transformers, relays, and conductor sizing will all have to be taken into account if larger-scale car charging becomes more and more popular. We are presently sizing most of our infrastructure to account for these swings of use,” said Haacke.

Among other accomplishments, Murray Power was able to pay off all of its bond debt this past year. In May 2017, the company used some of its reserve funds to pay off the remaining $8 million of a bond that had been used for infrastructure rebuilds within the last 15 years. The bond was used to upgrade the transmission system and rebuild several substations. 

Paying off the bond early saved Murray over $750,000 in interest and other bond expenses. Murray Power, after paying off the debt, continues to have millions in reserve that can be used for a “rainy day,” such as a catastrophic event or a major regional market debacle where rate stabilization is needed. 

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