Did you know that the University of Houston has its own electrical substation (Cougar Substation) and electrical grid providing reliable redundant electrical service to most of the campus? In fact, during Hurricane Ike, UH was one of the few places in Houston that did not lose power for any extended period.
However, with the remarkable growth of campus facilities over the past decade, the Cougar Substation reached its maximum capacity to provide redundant service, and has not been able to add new facilities to the current electrical grid. Additionally, the former Schlumberger campus, now UH Energy Research Park (ERP), is on unreliable overhead residential electrical service from the adjacent neighborhood, and experiences frequent unplanned outages, causing significant business disruption.
The Cougar Substation Expansion Project will alleviate these problems by adding a new 41.7 MVA power transformer at the Cougar Substation located at ERP. New electrical feeders will then extend the UH electrical grid to all ERP buildings, the new Health & Bio-Medical facilities, and alleviate load on several current feeders already in place.
This project has been in the works with studies and planning dating back to 2012. Construction began on September 1, 2016 and is approximately 25% complete as of February 2017. The date for substantial completion is February 2018. The less-than-obvious tangible benefits of the project will be the elimination of frequent unplanned electrical outages at ERP, adding the Health and Bio-Med facility onto the reliable UH grid, and an increase in overall capacity of the Substation. Built into the program is the ability for future capacity expansion by upsizing the existing Substation transformers once they reach their end-of-life expectancy in approximately 15 years.
The majority of the work is placing underground electrical duct bank throughout all of ERP, extending under the Union Pacifica Railroad between the main campus and ERP, under HW Spur 5, to the Health and Bio-Med buildings, under Calhoun Rd, along Wheeler Ave, past Moody Towers, then all the way through Lynn Eusan Park to an existing manhole close to E. Cullen Building. In total, that’s more than 8,000 linear feet of underground pathway, more than any other single project ever completed by Facilities Planning and Construction. That’s a distance of over 26 football fields!
An added benefit of the project, noted in the Daily Cougar recently, is the replacement of the sidewalk in Lynn Eusan Park. New duct bank necessitated the demolition of sidewalk from Cougar Village 1 through Lynn Eusan Park. New sidewalks are now widened and improved for better pedestrian flow.
There are many challenges with a project that is placed primarily underground over a vast expanse, traversing several different landowners. There have been multiple unmarked and unforeseen buried utilities that the project team has had to adjust to on a continuous basis with schedule and cost impacts. Approvals and coordination with third party landowners such as Union Pacific Railroad, TXDOT, Harris County, City of Houston, and CenterPoint Energy are critical and time consuming.
Impacts that the campus community will notice is the disruption of landscaping from excavation of earth with heavy equipment necessitating temporary road, sidewalk, and parking closures.
There will also be planned electrical outages necessary for the safe implementation of new electrical facilities, equipment and service. During the Spring 2017 semester, there will be at least four Planned Electrical Outages.