CFAC lobbying to keep BPA substation; but BPA says it’s too old

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The Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. is worried that an apparent plan by the Bonneville Power Administration to dismantle the power supply at the old plant could hurt the prospects for redevelopment at the site..

BPA provided power directly to the plant when it was under operation. The Conkelley substation, as it’s called, served the plant and has extensive electrical infrastructure still in place. While the aluminum plant is torn down and gone, the company did keep the fabrication building and several other warehouses with the hopes of attracting businesses there.

The company is allowed to use the buildings while a Superfund investigation and eventual cleanup at the site takes place.

A key component to attracting businesses is cheap power from BPA, the company said in a release.

“We already have been told by one party, which was interested in the site because of access to BPA power, that they will likely pull out if Conkelley closes. We expect that If the BPA proposal goes through and BPA closes Conkelley, the CFAC site will be much less attractive to other industrial and commercial users,” John Strozzaio, project manager for CFAC said in a release. “This affects the entire community by reducing the opportunity for industrial or commercial site redevelopment that could bring good jobs to the community and add to the tax base.”

Strozzaio said earlier this month that a company that repairs rail cars was interested in the site because the fabrication building has a rail line that goes directly into the building.

CFAC has asked the Montana congressional delegation, including Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, to urge BPA not to close the Conkelley substation. CFAC also has asked local elected officials to help preserve the valuable attribute of the CFAC site, the company said.

But BPA in an email to the Hungry Horse News said the Conkelly substation is old and outdated.

“The Conkelley Substation cannot reliably serve load. The substation was built in 1955 for the sole purpose of serving the adjacent Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant,” BPA spokesman Kevin Wingert said. “Following the closure, active demolition and identification of the CFAC plant as a Superfund site, the substation has been partially decommissioned. It serves no load currently and is in overall poor condition. The facilities are scheduled for total decommissioning in the near future.

“Other options exist for serving new load in and near the CFAC site, which is located along an existing 230-kilovolt transmission line corridor. Those options include the construction of a new substation or use of another nearby interconnection point to the grid,” Wingert added.

In the future, the infrastructure would then come from Flathead Electric Co-op, not BPA directly as it does now, Wingert noted.

“Bonneville is committed to working with customers like Flathead Electric Cooperative to translate new load opportunities in their service territories into economic realities that benefit the region,” Wingert said. “Any development seeking new power service in the area would be served by Flathead, leading to a line and load interconnection request to BPA if the load were large enough. This would allow BPA to identify the necessary facilities and equipment needed to deliver power to the requestor.”

Wingert couldn’t say when, exactly, the Conkelly substation would be decommissioned.

With the election in full swing, none of Montana’s congressional delegation commented on the matter, though the Columbia Falls city council Monday night approved a letter Monday night urging the BPA to reconsider.

City manager Susan Nicosia said the BPA told them that it would preserve Conkelly when CFAC first started demolition. The city claims that once the infrastructure is removed, it becomes too expensive to replace.

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