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Vidalia aldermen adopt resolution to apply for substation funds

 

VIDALIA — The Vidalia Board of Aldermen unanimously adopted a resolution to apply for up to a $7 million line of credit from the state bond commission Tuesday to build a new electricity substation.

The substation will be used to support new industrial facilities and residents during an electrical failure and supply power for future industrial growth, officials said.

“This is good news for our town, I feel like,” Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Town Hall meeting. “We are a growing town with two new industries that are about to turn the light switch on.”

Craft said both Syrah Resources’ graphite processing facility and the Vidalia Denim textile mill are ready to plug in industrial machines. However in the event of an electrical failure the town would not have the electrical capacity to supply power to both industries and the residents of Vidalia.

Jeremy McElwee of the Vidalia Utility Department said an incident with a transformer eight years ago raised concerns about the town’s capacity to support new industries on the lone substation.

“Back in 2011, we did have one transformer go down, and at that time we had to run the entire city off of one transformer,” McElwee said. “We didn’t have any redundancy and all we could do was pray that the other transformer would last. It took one year to get the rebuilt transformer back, and we got it back in service. We started looking at this then thinking that there could be a problem. This transformer was 16 years old and the life expectancy was normally between 30 and 50 years. At 16 years old and it failed.”

McElwee said with the town’s growth rate — especially after building two new industrial facilities — Vidalia would eventually need more power.

“If we continue growing like we have been growing, we will need more power,” he said. “I can’t tell you whether that will be two, three or four years from now but I do know it takes at least one year to get a transformer. … It is going to take us a minimum of two years to get a substation online. … We need to be proactive and look far enough ahead into the future or else we won’t have the power to bring new industries or new businesses.”

Craft further clarified that the new electric substations would not only support Syrah and Vidalia Denim during a similar failure but also the rest of the town.

“This substation is not just for industry,” Craft said. “This substation is for the people of Vidalia and industry. It’s for both. In the event something were to happen at one of these substations, the town could be run off of the other one.”

Craft said that the town has been approved for up to $10 million in capital outlay funds from the state — $5 million in Priority 2 and $5 million in Priority 5 funds — and the town would need to supply a 25% match on any funds drawn once they’ve moved to Priority 1.

Even without those funds, Craft said the town could repay a loan through its normal day-to-day operations and with a possible $2 million return from the electricity substation annually once it’s built.

Before the resolution passed, members of the Board of Aldermen questioned whether building a new substation on a $7 million loan would be the best way to correct the problem. However, the board unanimously voted to pass the resolution with the stipulation that any loans would be presented to the Board of Aldermen before they are drawn.

“We need to separate this into two conversations,” Alderwoman Sabrina Doré said, “The need for electricity and the need for a loan. … We need electricity, but do we need the loan? … We make a $7 million investment and could have a possible $2 million return of investment annually by doing so. I would play those odds — not on the backs of someone else.”

Doré said the issue had not been brought before the Board of Aldermen until last month while no other options had been presented.

“I am certain that plans had to be in place before it was brought to the bond commission,” Doré said. “My issue with that is, why haven’t they been presented to the board of Aldermen? … The board has not been presented with a plan.”

Alderman Tommy Probst echoed Doré’s concerns during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s so important, but we still have not had a meeting about it until tonight,” Probst said.

“This is not going to be on the backs of the people,” Craft said. “… We — through hard work — are a growing town and this is a growing pain. That is a good thing. It’s not going to raise your electricity bill and it is not going to cost you your rebate or your future rebates. … It is going to be a vehicle to bringing your bills down because we have more people bringing new businesses and that is a shared cost.”

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