Both below ground and above ground, Westar Energy has projects under way in Lawrence to cut down on the number of power outages in the city.
Chad Luce, manager of customer and community relations for Westar, confirmed Wednesday that crews have begun a significant repair job at Westar’s substation near Sixth and Kentucky streets, which feeds downtown and surrounding residential areas.
“We decided this is one that needs to be done to help with reliability,” Luce said.
The project comes after an underground cable at the substation caught on fire approximately two weeks ago and left about 5,300 customers in and around downtown without power temporarily. The fire, which was contained inside a vault, damaged two other conductors. Luce said the company decided after the event to undertake a larger project to replace six aging cables at the substation.
“This should really cut down on the chance of equipment failure being a problem at that substation,” Luce said.
The Topeka-based utility has had three significant power outages in Lawrence since late February, although not all have been equipment-related. At least one outage was the result of birds flying into a transformer.
Westar hopes to have the project completed in the next three weeks, and time is of the essence. Luce said the company is able to provide power to the downtown area from another substation currently, but if temperatures rise significantly, and people start using their air conditioners, it will be more difficult to power the downtown area from the other substation.
Luce said the project will involve putting a new power line beneath Sixth Street and into the alley that runs between the 600 blocks of New Hampshire and Massachusetts streets. But Luce said he was hopeful the project would not cause traffic delays.
A Westar project in West Lawrence is more likely to be noticed by members of the public. Crews hired by Westar currently are trimming trees near a major Westar transmission line that runs roughly along Kasold Drive from Peterson Road to the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The tree trimming is part of regular maintenance Westar does to prevent trees from growing too close to power lines.
“We want people to have an uninterrupted supply of power,” Luce said. “We want to control what we can control, and tree trimming is an example of something we can control.”
Luce said Westar does try to alert property owners to the trimmings. Property owners generally have information hung on their doors one to two weeks in advance of crews cutting in the area. The information includes a toll-free number for property owners to call Westar with questions.
Westar does have a legal right to conduct the trimmings — or even entirely cut down a tree — if it is near a power line. The utility has a series of easements that follow their power lines, which gives Westar the right to be on the property and do maintenance activities.
The area along Kasold Drive was last trimmed about four years ago, and Luce said he anticipates the trimming this time won’t be as heavy as it was then.
“I think there is a lot less growth for us to deal with,” he said.
The project is expected to take about 15 weeks.