Just in case another winter storm cripples the Texas power grid, there is a plan underway to provide backup power for the Killeen area’s main drinking water provider. However, officials are still coming up with final costs.
The Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 board of directors may be set to approve a bid for a backup power generation source at the Belton Lake Water Treatment Facility as soon as the next meeting in April. The board received an update on the project Tuesday morning by Josh Coleman, chief operating officer of L5E Group, who is WCID-1’s consultant on the project.
Coleman explained to the board that five contractors participated in a walk-through of the plant on Feb. 11, and three provided proposals for the project a month later on March 11.
The three proposals include options for both emergency only and non-emergency engines, options for diesel and natural gas fuel sources as well as options for outright purchase or financing. All proposals were for 10 megawatts — or 10,000 kilowatts — of generating power.
Ricky Garrett, general manager of WCID-1, said after the meeting that the backup power source would generally be used when it is needed, including load-shedding.
“And hopefully we’ll also be able to take advantage of the load-shedding programs that Oncor and ERCOT and others have available so that in the peak, when demand for energy is at its greatest, we may employ those generators to help pay for themselves,” Garrett said.
He explained that the water district has participated in load-shedding programs in the past but has been limited in how much it could shut down.
The project gained traction quickly when Garrett presented the idea to the board shortly after Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.
“Winter Storm Uri showed us that although we never lost power completely, the power we were receiving, there was enough imbalance between the phases for our large motors to run,” Garrett said. “They have self-protection relays, and when we would try to turn them on, they wouldn’t come on; and that’s to protect the motor.”
Throughout Tuesday’s discussion, the board members appeared to seem to favor an option with a natural gas fuel source. Board members Blair Williams, John Fisher and Kenny Wells were not present at the meeting, however.
Installation alone could cost around $7,000 to $10,000 for a diesel engine or from around $9,500 to $10,500 for a natural gas engine.
Coleman’s presentation did not provide total cost estimates for the proposals because the estimated money needed to do a gas line extension for a natural gas engine is still to be determined, as were the estimates to have 100 hours — or about 60,000 gallons — of diesel fuel storage for the diesel engines.
Brian Dosa, director of Public Works at Fort Hood and a participating but non-voting member of the water board, asked Coleman about the natural gas line extension.
Garrett chimed in to answer Dosa’s question, referencing estimates the district has received from Atmos Energy.
“I remember an estimate, Brian, that was around $3 million,” Garrett said. “I don’t recall the size line that was for.”
Dosa admitted he may have been overthinking the slide that showed the to be determined figure as a “K” or somewhere in the thousands range.
“I got excited when I saw parentheses dollar ‘K’, not dollar ‘M,’” Dosa said, laughing.
Oversight aside, Dosa verbally expressed interest in pursuing a proposal with a natural gas option.
“That’s the beauty of the natural gas is continuous supply, generally lower cost, more reliable,” Dosa said.
Board member Sandra Blankenship immediately responded: “As long as the pressure is maintained.”
Dosa countered: “We maintained pressures on Fort Hood during Winter Storm Uri. We never saw any detrimented pressures.”
Immediately preceding the back and forth between Dosa and Blankenship, the board engaged in a discussion about the diesel fuel options, primarily from board President Rob Robinson.
Coleman explained to Robinson that the diesel tanks would be above ground and may not be insulated from weather conditions.
“Diesel has to be maintained. You just can’t put it in a tank and expect it to stay good forever,” Coleman said in response to one of Robinson’s questions.
At the very end of the meeting, Dale Treadway, who represents Copperas Cove, verbally supported the natural gas option and to have it done in-house.
“Personally, I’d like to see us do the gas line in-house or local contractor instead of Atmos,” Treadway said.
Coleman explained to the board during the presentation that Atmos officials told him it would likely be cheaper and faster for the water district to do the gas line extension itself or from a local contractor than it would be for Atmos to do it.
At the end of the meeting when asked for items for future agendas, Blankenship made clear a point she wanted to get across about flushable wipes.
“Flushable wipes are not flushable,” she said. “They do not decompose, and every time you put that down the toilet, it’s costing you money.”
After the meeting, Blankenship, Robinson and Treadway clarified that it costs customers money because of the costs needed to repair clogged pipes. Garrett also explained that the fibers intertwine together and crews have removed large clumps of wipes that measured around 7 feet in length and weighed around 150 pounds.
Robinson thanked Blankenship for bringing it up.
“We’ve heard that many times and yet they haven’t corrected that on the printing or advertising,” he said.