By David Kligman
CONCORD — PG&E broke ground today (April 26) on the first of three new electric distribution control centers that will house new smart grid technology, enhancing electric reliability for customers.
Over the next year, about 250 construction workers will build the new 37,000-square-foot center, which is located in a lot next to the utility’s service center in this Contra Costa County city. The center will be completed in 2014.
About 90 electric operations employees will work at the facility. They’ll monitor thousands of miles of electric distribution lines — from the San Francisco Bay Area south to the Central Coast region — that deliver electricity to millions of individual homes and businesses.
Geisha Williams, PG&E’s executive vice president of electric operations, spoke about the benefits of the new center during a ceremony attended by utility employees, elected officials, community leaders and the contractors who are designing the new building.
‘Proven, innovative and sophisticated technology’
“Today’s groundbreaking is just one more step that we’re taking in our long-term strategy of improving and introducing proven, innovative and sophisticated technology into our overall business with one thing in mind — and that is to better serve our customers,” she said.
Williams said the new centers are part of PG&E’s ongoing commitment to upgrade and modernize its operations to provide customers with the safest, most reliable electric service possible.
Last year, customers experienced the fewest minutes without electricity in company history and the number of service interruptions was the second lowest on record. Then, in the first quarter of 2013, PG&E delivered its best service reliability performance ever.
The control centers will incorporate smart grid technology, giving operators more real-time visibility into the electric system.
A new distribution management system will incorporate data from Geographic Information Systems and customers’ SmartMeters to help pinpoint the exact location of outages. It’s that smart grid technology that’s already benefitting customers, she said.
Williams said the building will be the “nerve center” for PG&E’s electric distribution operations.
“The smart grid is going to make our electric system stronger, it’s going to make it smarter and it’s going to make it more efficient,” Williams said.
In addition, automated “intelligent” switches being installed on electric circuits throughout PG&E’s service area will help reroute the flow of electricity to minimize the number of customers impacted by an outage.
Three new control centers
The other centers will be located in Fresno and in Rocklin.
Once all three centers are in operation, PG&E will have greater flexibility to shift workloads between them if support is needed during storms or a natural disaster. They will be constructed to high seismic standards and to leading environmental standards, also known as LEED certification.
Brian Richards, a system operator who will be based in Fresno, also attended the ceremony. He said he’s looking forward to new technology that will provide better communication and more efficient work.
“We’ll have a longer communication network for us to communicate with our field employees,” he said. “We’re streamlining what we do so that it doesn’t take three or four steps to perform one task. You may be able to do that in one or two steps.”
Mayor: PG&E has been ‘a good neighbor’
Concord Mayor Dan Helix praised the project for providing nearly 100 jobs in Concord, as well as giving a boost to the area from the construction workers building the facility.
“We are delighted to have this facility in Concord,” Helix said. “It sounds trite to say it but let me just say it’s huge because not only are we getting up to 90 new jobs but the impact those jobs have on our economy at a time when we are struggling means so much.”
Building the centers also is a commitment to the communities PG&E serves.
“PG&E has always been a good neighbor to Concord,” Helix said to applause.
After remarks from Williams, Helix and Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, PG&E presented a $5,000 check to the Concord Police Officers Association. And then Williams and the speakers grabbed gleaming silver shovels for a ceremonial turn of the dirt.
Construction on the Concord facility is expected to begin in June and be completed by next March.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.