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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Public Affairs Office

Date: August 19, 2008
No: 08-25

Powered up:  Upgrade of electrical distribution system increases reliability

Left, a view looking north on Prussman Ave. at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., shows the outdated utility poles that were removed as part of an $8.5 million upgrade and privatization of the high voltage electrical distribution system. Right, the same view today.
Click for Larger Photo

NATICK, Mass. --   In June 2008, the upgrade of the high voltage electrical distribution system at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (SSC) here was completed.

A contract for $8.5 million to upgrade and privatize the ownership, operation and maintenance of the system had been awarded to the NSTAR Electric Company from the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) in September 2006.

“This system replaces a 50-year-old system that had reached the end of its life,” said Dave Duncan, engineer and chief of SSC's Engineering Division, Directorate of Public Works (DPW). “Based on several reports, if something had not been done, the system would have had a catastrophic failure. It was a happy day in 2006 when the contract was awarded.”

The work involved the demolition of 27 existing transformers and high voltage switches throughout the installation.

“With the new system all transformers will be outside the buildings,” said Duncan. “This will improve safety for the buildings' occupants.”

The old overhead distribution system of wooden poles and aerial cables was also demolished. All underground cable was replaced and the new system is a state-of-the-art looped system to every building on the installation.

Duncan said the new system “significantly increases power reliability at each building.”

The process had a lot of stops and starts, explained Duncan, who said he remembered attending a utility privatization meeting as far back as 1998.

We worked through the DESC, which performs the contracting portion of privatization effort for the U.S. Army, he continued. Through the DESC, we were able to work with a private contractor and come up with a concept design and economic analysis, and send out a proposal to see if any utility company was interested. However, because most of the Army systems were in need of significant work, and because the Army had stringent requirements, most companies did not see any benefit to taking the task on.

Seeing the value of privatization, Congress stepped in and began setting aside funds for utility privatization projects. In 2006, SSC received funding towards this project and NSTAR, with its winning bid, agreed to perform the system-wide upgrade and to become the new "owner" of the system.

In addition to the safety and reliability benefits, another plus that Duncan mentioned is that it takes the Army out of the business of ownership and maintenance for utilities. “We have a state-of-the-art system that NSTAR owns, operates and maintains,” he said.

The SSC is also now in compliance with Department of Defense Reform Initiative Directive (DRID) #49: Privatizing Utility Systems. This DRID was a directive under then Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who believed the military services should be doing what they do best, rather than dealing with utility problems.

Another $250,000 has just been secured by SSC's DPW as part of this existing privatization contract to replace the seven remaining 50-year-old indoor switchboards.

This page last updated on 10 May 2006.