By David Kligman
ORINDA — Improving electric reliability and capacity involves a lot more than just flipping a switch.
In Contra Costa County, a major portion of work is nearly completed on an $11 million project that includes the installation of a massive transformer to replace one that is a half century old.
The job site is Moraga Substation, a major substation in the PG&E transmission system that supports thousands of customers in Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Hayward and Piedmont.
The project is just one of many throughout PG&E’s territory to enhance electric reliability.
Most of the work in Orinda is happening inside PG&E’s facility so customers probably aren’t aware that it’s taking place, but they’re the ones who will benefit.
Transporting a huge transformer
Just getting the transformer in place was no easy feat last month. The crane company the utility normally uses said it couldn’t transport the 30-foot-long, 25-foot-high piece of equipment, which was built in Austria. So another shipping company was found.
It is believed to be one of the largest transformers in PG&E’s territory in terms of size and weight.
“When it’s fully dressed and full of oil, it will weigh over 600,000 pounds,” said sub foreman Tony Berumen.
A team of 12 PG&E employees—electricians and apprentice electricians—began working on the project last January.
In addition to the transformer, the team has removed old lattice structures and switches, installed new steel structures and switches, replaced four breakers and strung 10,000 feet of cable.
On Oct. 13, they began working from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week to get the work done. The schedule was compressed by about a month during the construction because PG&E is using backup generation from an outside company in Oakland. Reducing the amount of time it takes to complete the task will not only save the company money but avoid reliability issues.
Berumen, who said this is his biggest project he has worked on during his 28-year PG&E career, credited his crew for their dedication and stepping up to work the hours needed.
“These guys are working rain or shine,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible what they’re getting done in 15 days. A lot of these guys have young kids who play sports on the weekends. They’re taking their time to come out here and do this job.”
Last step: Connecting the wires
The last week of the job has involved work in trucks with 60-foot-tall buckets as the electricians tighten cables. If the wind exceeds 25 mph the job is shut down. That wasn’t the case Monday (Oct. 22) despite a steady rainfall.
Two electrical technicians follow the crew and test their work as it’s completed to prove that everything wired is correct. The last day of construction is Sunday.
“We should have everything ready for them to come in Monday morning and start their test program,” said Berumen. “They’ll go through stage by stage to get this bank energized.”
And like most substations these days, the high-tech equipment will be monitored remotely.
Those involved say they have great pride in what they’re doing to help customers.
“I feel like we’re doing a public service to improve the power in the area,” said electrician Jose Perez.
But substation construction supervisor Shawn Murphy said the safety record of the team is equally impressive.
“With as much work as they’ve done, there hasn’t been one injury on this job,” Murphy said. “And with the hazardous conditions these guys are in, the heavy lifting they do, being 60 feet in the air, to do all that work without an injury or even a little cut on the hand they should be commended for that.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.