May 24, 2017
To Members of the President’s Cabinet and Provost’s Council:
As you know, Oregon State’s Corvallis campus has experienced frequent power outages affecting teaching, research and other important university operations. I recognize that these outages are more than just a minor inconvenience, particularly for faculty and students involved in sensitive research, as well as teaching and studies.
I want to assure you that Finance and Administration leadership has been working to resolve problems associated both with the university’s on-campus power grid and with the delivery of reliable power by Pacific Power, the regional energy supplier that serves the Corvallis community and the campus.
Pacific Power owns the Corvallis campus power grid and is responsible for the grid’s maintenance and capital improvements. The university pays an annual lease for the use of the grid, in addition to the cost of energy consumed.
Between January 1, 2010 and May 15, 2017, Oregon State’s Corvallis campus experienced 111 power outages: 43 were due to events occurring on campus; 52 outages resulted from off-campus events that affected electrical service to campus; and the remaining 16 outages were planned events for maintenance purposes involving the campus power grid.
The reasons for power outages are wide-ranging and often are compounded by extreme weather events. Some outages are unpredictable and may be caused by issues such as downed trees, heavy rains, freezing rain or auto accidents. Yet, some of the power failures we have experienced are due to mechanical failures involving cables, switches, transformers and other aspects of the power system. These sorts of failures are preventable through increased investment in equipment and maintenance.
Currently, 44 buildings on campus have backup generators that provide at least partial interim power to supply critical building systems during outages. Over the last four years, Facilities Services has installed large power generators that can fully power entire buildings at Dryden Hall, Milam Hall and the Pharmacy Building. In 2016, Facilities Services began a six-year plan to install 12 new full-building power generators at key research and teaching buildings across the Corvallis campus. This work has been done with the Research Office to prioritize the six-year plan and projects. Without question, the backup generators are viewed as an additional measure to protect critical campus safety and operational needs during emergencies and outages, and complement long-term solutions that address the core issues with power stability.
Finance and Administrative leadership and Capital Planning and Facilities Services staff have been working with Pacific Power to identify ways to improve the overall reliability of Oregon State’s power grid through both short-term improvements and long-range investments.
Pacific Power has committed to complete $800,000 in equipment upgrades during 2017. This work includes $400,000 in upgrades to an off campus substation located along Northwest Grant Avenue and $100,000 to increase capacity at the 35th Street substation. These upgrades will immediately improve the reliability of the power supply to campus. The utility company will assign response personnel who are dedicated to the OSU campus; provide additional training for Oregon State employees; and will reduce time needed for repairs by keeping OSU-specific materials on hand. At the same time, the university and Pacific Power are drafting a new service agreement that will better address OSU’s business needs and provide for improved repair crew response time when issues do occur.
Pacific Power is implementing a long-term reliability plan that will improve the design of underground electrical vaults located on the OSU campus and increase the frequency of proactive equipment inspection. The utility has provided OSU a five-year plan to replace outdated oil-switches across campus. Pacific Power also is examining a modernization program to improve the sustainability and energy storage of the campus grid.
Pacific Power’s long-term regional strategy also seeks to address power transmission matters beyond the university’s campus energy grid. It has developed a plan to address issues with energy transmission and substation reliability through technology upgrades, capital investments, and improved data analysis.
OSU Electrical Energy Sustainability Plan
Concurrent with Pacific Power’s efforts, the university has engaged with third-party consultants to identify on-campus power grid improvements necessary to meet the existing and future needs of Oregon State’s academic, research and outreach missions. The Electrical Energy Sustainability Plan, which is expected to be complete by the end of June, is focused on reliability, safety and efficiency and will take into consideration needs, costs and OSU’s goal to be carbon-neutral by 2025. Implementation of the plan will be incorporated into OSU’s ten-year business forecast.
Finance and Administration leaders and Capital Planning and Facilities Services staff will continue to work closely with Pacific Power to make immediate upgrades and improvements, and monitor progress on long-range plans. Decisions made this summer about the proposed Electrical Energy Sustainability Plan and updates regarding the campus power grid will be shared with the President’s Cabinet and Provost’s Council – and the OSU community – as information is available.
If you have questions or concerns, please contact Anita Azarenko (firstname.lastname@example.org), Associate Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Services, or Mike Green (email@example.com), Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration.