Electricity demand sparks investment in Uptown grid

Xcel Energy plans to replace cable and install upgraded equipment near Lake & Hennepin to manage increased electricity demand in Uptown.
Xcel Energy plans to replace cable and install upgraded equipment near Lake & Hennepin to manage increased electricity demand in Uptown.

Uptown’s development boom is putting a strain on the electrical grid around Hennepin Avenue, according to Xcel Energy.

Xcel staff said increased demand for electricity along with a summer heat wave caused overloaded circuits and power outages July 21-22 in the East Calhoun neighborhood. Workers replaced a cable to turn the lights back on, but Senior Engineer James Nash said there is still work to do.

Xcel is consequently preparing to invest about $100,000 to bring more electric capacity to the area.

“We’ll add some hardware to relieve the overloaded circuits up and down Hennepin,” Nash said. “It’s not a band-aid fix, this is a long-term fix.”

Nash said the electrical system has historically served three-story brownstones, and in recent years the grid is increasingly powering new six-story buildings.

“You ride the Greenway, and you see this new development. And the new buildings all have central air,” said Nash. “We’re upgrading the area for the 21st century. … We’re basically doubling the capacity in the area.”

Electricity 2Xcel Spokesman Randy Fordice said that while families in the 70s typically owned one television, today residences often plug in multiple televisions and computers.

“It’s not just more buildings, it’s more intense electric use in existing customers,” he said.

And while about 20 percent of homes had central air in the 70s, today it’s closer to 80 percent, he said. Smaller home sizes are generally giving way to larger homes with more bedrooms (particularly in the suburbs) , he said.

The area of focus for Xcel is located between 32nd and Lake on the west side of Hennepin, Nash said.

Nash explained that circuits can become overloaded when the temperature is above 85 degrees for three days in a row. As more air conditioners switch on, if a fuse can’t carry the capacity it will will switch off to protect the system from further damage.

At the peak of the East Calhoun power outage last summer, up to 1,000 people lost power for three periods of time. About 400 of the hardest-hit residents lost power for nine hours.

Pending city approval, Xcel may add at least one utility box in the vicinity of the Calhoun Square parking ramp. The improvements are slated to be in place before next summer’s peak electric demand.

Xcel also recently added electric capacity to Midtown via a new substation located at Oakland Avenue and the Midtown Greenway, an investment designed to help serve the nearby healthcare campus.

 

The city of Minneapolis is offering free home visits to income-qualified residents, including renters. Consultants can:

  • Install weatherstripping, compact fluorescent bulbs, programmable thermostats, high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators
  • Test for air leaks
  • Inspect attic and wall insulation
  • Provide a quote for insulation or air sealing

For those who don’t qualify for free audits, the cost of a visit is $70. The CARAG neighborhood is currently offering $30 audits to its residents, and the Linden Hills neighborhood is offering its residents $35 audits.

The Home Energy Squad is a partnership between the city of Minneapolis, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy and delivered by the nonprofit Center for Energy and Environment.

For more information, call 612-335-5874 or visit mncee.org.

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