Residents can expect to see a great deal of activity along the IL Route 251 corridor between IL Route 38 and Flagg Road in the coming months as Rochelle Municipal Utilities begins Phase 1 of its electrical system infrastructure upgrade.
The five-phase project, Rochelle 5KV Conversion, will increase the efficiency of the power of the lines by limiting system loss and increasing capacities from 5,000 volts to 13,500 volts. "The City of Rochelle began electrical operations in 1893 as City Light and Power and much of the infrastructure we are replacing was built in the early 1920s," said Joe Orlikowski, RMU Superintendent of Electric Operations. "Over time, the lower voltage results in more system loss and, as you can imagine, the average household demand for electricity is much greater today."
In addition to the residential demand, Rochelle industry also continues to grow."The City of Rochelle's load growth has gone up 3 percent each year for the last three years," said Jeff Sartorius, RMU Assistant Superintendent of Electric Operations. "Before the economic downturn, it was 7.5 percent each year." The anticipated five-year project partitions the city into five phases, each to be completed in subsequent years.
"If the City keeps its current funding commitments, the project will take five years to complete – approximately one phase per year," Orlikowski said. Some areas will receive new wires, either overhead or underground, and others will receive utility pole replacements. Phase 1, estimated to cost $1.4 million, is scheduled to commence construction on May 5 and be completed in early October of this year.
"We can't upgrade the entire city at the same time," Orlikowski said. "We chose to begin on the north end as the State of Illinois is planning to widen Route 251
to five lanes between Route 38 and Flagg Road. We need to install our underground infrastructure before that happens."
Cost estimates for the remaining phases are $1.5 million for Phase 2; $1.5 - $1.8 million for Phase 3; $2 million for Phase 4; and $1.2 million for Phase 5. The differences in the cost of the phases are primarily due to the necessity of placing some of the upgraded infrastructure underground, as will be the case with the downtown business district. The cost is four times greater to go underground.
"Rates will not go up due to this infrastructure upgrade,"Orlikowski said. "That's not to say residents won't see a rate increase for other reasons. What forces us to raise rates is the power we purchase – those rates may go up."
Rochelle Municipal Utilities wants the community to be aware that there will be many utility workers in the residential neighborhoods, mostly Monday through Friday during business hours of 7 a.m. through 5 p.m, however,some Saturday work may also take place especially if weather delays happen.
"This is a massive job and safety is the big concern for me," Orlikowski said. "We'll be in neighborhoods and kids need to be warned to stay away from the equipment. There will be a lot of activity and big trucks. Parents, please keep a close watch on your children."
Residents in Phase 1 should also be aware that construction workers will periodically be on their property marking the placement of underground infrastructure and upgrading the system. Residents are asked to please leave the flag markers in their yard until the work is completed.
"We know it's a pain to mow around the flags, but it should only be one or two week sections at a time and workers will remove the flags when they are done," Sartorius said. "If the flags are missing, JULIE will have to locate again, which will delay the project and increase the costs."
The construction contract is scheduled to be awarded on April 14. "RMU will announce the name of the construction company when it awards the contract. Residents will be able to identify the workers by the name on their trucks in addition to the hard hats and reflective vests they will be wearing. These workers should also be able to produce a company I.D. if asked," Orlikowski added.
The first portion of Phase 1 will be prep work and laying the underground cable. The second portion will be installation and cutting over to increase voltage.
"There will be coordinated outages during the installation portion of the project," Orlikowski said. "We will
give residential customers notice a couple of days in advance and businesses a one-week notice of the planned outage as we transfer service."
Rochelle Municipal Utilities, local people providing local services, thanks the community in advance for their cooperation and understanding during this important electrical infrastructure upgrade.
"We've gotten our money's worth out of our old system," Orlikowski said. "It's time to improve our efficiency and capacity for our current customers and prepare for the future.