Like most utilities providers, Bryan Municipal Utilities is constantly having to replace, upgrade and make its infrastructure more efficient, and BMU definitely has its plate full for the foreseeable future.
During an event co-sponsored by the Williams County Economic Development Corporation and Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, BMU Director of Utilities Kevin Maynard talked about the past and the future outlook.
Maynard reported that the utility provider garnered $26 million in revenues in 2018, but that a significant portion of those funds will go not only into operations and maintenance but capital improvements as well.
BMU manages 70 miles of water distribution system mains, 10 percent of which is outdated 4-inch water main. According to Maynard, assuming a 100-year service life, the utility must replace 0.7 mile of water line each year, with a focus on that outdated 10 percent.
“That’s not recommended as being adequate in size to provide proper fire protection, eight-inch is the minimum recommended size,” explained Maynard, noting the size of line affects the city’s insurance costs as well. “We’re making those priorities because they can’t provide adequate flow.”
Fifteen of 42 fire hydrants connected to the main were replaced in the past year, he said.
Such replacements, along with similarly prioritized lead-based service lines, cost BMU about $750,000 a year.
“We’re knocking them out gradually here,” said Maynard.
Currently, water revenue pays for operations and maintenance, but not all of the needed capital improvements, Maynard said.
He noted that while that’s the case, BMU is currently on a five-year rate plan featuring 7 percent increases, though now in year two, the utility is looking to see if those rate increases even need to be that high moving forward. The second phase of the plan is slated to be formally reviewed in the fall.
“It’s to see if we need a full 7 percent or something less than that; it won’t be more,” said Maynard.
For the utility’s fiber optic services, the priority remains getting businesses better access to the bandwidth they need.
BMU plans to rebuild two 20-year-old fiber optic loops in 2019-2020 and then begin to provide direct fiber extensions to business-focused areas in 2021, Maynard said.
“We will have a direct pipeline to the internet from your business if you need that kind of speed,” he said.
Maynard also reiterated BMU’s long-term strategy of upgrading its infrastructure in that department to better serve its future focus of being primarily a bandwidth provider, rather than a service provider, as with cable and internet, though he noted those services will remain intact for the foreseeable future, even as more and more young people move away from traditional cable.
“One of the challenges for rural communities like ours is to get some of the larger companies to invest in that kind of infrastructure,” said Maynard. “We’ve been in the infrastructure business ... We do it pretty well. We believe this is where the future is leading us with the communications utility.”
In the realm of electric power, BMU is planning to this year decommission the Daggett Substation, built in 1976 and nearing the end of its useful life, at a cost of $3,185,000 (plus $200,000 in decommission costs).
It also plans to extend 69kV line from the substation to Industrial Drive at a cost of $573,000.
Those projects are part of a longer-term plan to eliminate all 34.5kV infrastructure in Bryan between now and 2023 at a cost of $1 million. Other projects on the same multi-year timeline include a power plant generator substation at a cost of $1.87 million and a power plant distribution substation at a cost of $3 million.
The presence of new substations will decrease the amount of line exposed to the elements, vehicle accidents, animals and the like, which can cause disruptions and reliability issues.
“The longer feeder lengths, the more opportunities there are for things to happen,” said Maynard, before looking to Ohio Art’s Dave Batt. “... How many squirrels do you think live between Townline Road and Ohio Art?
“Reliability has been a big focus for us.”
Currently, the utility is conducting an electric rate study, though Maynard said he didn’t expect rate changes in the coming year.
That’s largely due to work of the Bryan community, he said.
“The biggest impact has been with the impact of the peak shaving we’ve been doing and the customer support we’ve been getting voluntarily in response to requests when we have those peak days,” said Maynard, noting there are typically 20 such days in a given year.
Maynard said the practice saves roughly $4 million in transmission and capacity costs a year.