What is it that Conway Corp. does all year to keep our town in light and heat during the worst of winter weather?
CEO Richie Arnold is happy to explain.
“We’ve had a long-standing commitment to tree trimming which, I believe, is critical when we have ice, snow and wind,” Arnold said.
“Tree limbs and electric (and don’t forget cable) don’t get along.”
Conway did have some outages in the record-breaking Christmas Day snow storm of 2012.
Mayor Tab Townsell, who likes comparisons with neighboring cities, said: “While the storm could have delivered more initial ice to Little Rock than Conway, for the same snowfall totals, Little Rock experienced an estimated 70 percent of its electric customers suffering from outages with relatively few in Conway experiencing outages.”
Arnold said: “Ours were manageable, and service was restored in a relatively short time.”
Tree trimming is costly, $555,000 in 2012; $590,000 in 2013.
The expense is split between the electric and cable budgets.
“We see the value of those expenditures two ways,” Arnold said.
“Our customers have fewer outages, and when we do have an outage, it is of shorter duration. We save money when we have less system to repair.”
Do those savings equal the tree-trimming expense?
“It’s hard to quantify the ‘non-event,’ but there’s no question that greater reliability is highly valued by our customers, especially during cold weather.”
Every winter storm is different.
“But there’s no question in my mind that tree trimming in those power line rights-of-way will reduce outages and restoration times.”
Arnold said Conway Corp. has a mutual aid agreement with 14 other municipal electric providers that can call on each other for restoration assistance.
“We have both provided and received assistance in the past.”
Tommy Shackelford, Conway Corp.’s chief operating officer, joined the conversation.
“For 20 years we’ve had an aggressive rebuilding program for our electric system, replacing old lines and poles, upgrading, rehabbing and replacing to accommodate the increase in electric system loads.
“Our electric substations are linked together so if one transformer were damaged or went down, we could transfer the load to another substation’s transformer in another part of town,” Shackelford said.
“In addition, we have animal mitigation at substations to protect from intrusion by raccoons, crows and other critters.”
Shackelford talked about some of the other projects under way that will keep the water flowing to, and the wastewater flowing away from Conway households for the next 25 years or longer.
In 2006, work was completed on James H. Brewer Lake in Conway County to add four feet of depth, raising the mean sea level from 326 to 330.
“We’ve seen how that has helped with the drought this year — and we’re still in a drought. The lake has been as low as it has been since we raised it,” Shackelford said.
“The plan is to raise Brewer Lake to an even deeper pool level.”
Wastewater outfall lines that were getting close to capacity have been upgraded. Tucker Creek Outfall was replaced recently, and outfalls along the east side of I-40 were completed this fall, Shackelford said.
“We are still working on one outfall that will connect the new Central Pump Station.”
Ground was broken in 2012 on the Tupelo Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant on 80 acres between Lollie Road and the Arkansas River. The plant’s capacity will be 16 million gallons per day.
Completion date is mid-2014 at a cost of $90 million, and depending on the city’s growth, should be sufficient for 25 years.
About 9 miles of new pipe is being installed to transfer sewer flow to the new plant. Both the pump stations and the new conveyance lines are a part of the overall plan for the Tupelo Bayou plant.
Arnold commented on the likely future development in the area.
“It stands to reason that having utility infrastructure on or nearby makes a property more attractive for development.
“The placement of the sewer outfall line south of Donnell Ridge will allow gravity sewer to a central pump station. If (or when) development takes place in that area, it will connect to that new outfall line,” Arnold said.
“This is a better design that eliminates smaller projects and multiple, smaller pump stations. It creates an economy of scale which those smaller projects do not, but it also will result in less maintenance expense over time.”
Cable, Internet and telephone
Plans are to build a hardened head-end facility in 2013 to house the data center at an estimated cost of $3.2 million. The current building is 800 sq. ft. and will increase to 2,400 sq. ft.
Jason Hansen, chief technology officer, said once completed it could take nine months to “migrate” from the old location to the new, also on the Conway Corp. campus.
“It’s the critical component in our ability to maintain high availability for the cable, Internet and telephone aspects of our business,” Hansen said, “as well as the constant monitoring of our other critical infrastructure, such as electric, water and wastewater systems.”
Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at email@example.com and 505-1234.