Most of us experience the work SWEPCO does in the traditional way; linemen in bucket trucks doing electrical work in- or above- our lush tree canopy. Downtown, though, is a horse of a completely different color. Much of downtown’s bountiful electricity runs under our streets and sidewalks and into small, dark electrical vaults.
For the past two years, SWEPCO crews have been spotted all over the Central Business District doing work underground…and for a very important reason. At the most recent Shreveport City Council meeting, SWEPCO External Affairs Manager Michael Corbin explained the upgrades were prompted by a series of
explosions in the vaults in downtown Columbus, Ohio, in 2014 that plunged much of their downtown into darkness. The cause of the outage, said Corbin, was a mixture of ice that formed on a water main break and the salt used to melt it. This was a huge deal for SWEPCO and their parent company, AEP, because it affected their main offices in Columbus, AND the SWEPCO Customer Service Centers. The affects were hard-hitting and system-wide. SWEPCO’s computer and data systems remained down due to the outage and their six sister operating companies across the country were hit with similar issues with systems and communication. Since 2014, SWEPCO has installed system redundancies and believe that future operations are far less likely to be disrupted in a similar manner. According to Corbin, the electrical grid in downtown Shreveport is designed
similarly to Columbus, with a series of underground vaults and miles of cable creating the network to power office buildings, residential buildings, traffic signals, and streetlights. Immediately after the Columbus incident, SWEPCO began to look at underground installations across their three-state service area with particular attention to the Shreveport grid. In 2015, SWEPCO began a five-year project to refurbish and upgrade the entire Shreveport downtown network, which has included digging new vaults and replacing the electric cable. To date, Corbin told the city council, SWEPCO has invested over $15 million on refurbishing the network and over $5 million on monitoring equipment. Included in the upgrades have been:
- 75,000 ft of primary cable
- 16,000 ft of secondary cable
- 24 transformers
- 26 protectors
- Numerous duct banks, utility hole structures, and vault structures
- In anticipation of new residential and business customers, SWEPCO constructed an above-ground vault adjacent to Shreveport Common Park to accommodate the service needs of the park and to expand their underground network in the area.
The work in downtown Shreveport is coming to a close, but we are hopeful more upgrades will be coming soon. The Downtown Development Authority has applied for a PSC grant to upgrade all downtown streetlights to LED fixtures and we hope to be hearing more soon on whether our grant was approved.