For over a year, there have been discussions among the City, the Bonanza Park developer and the Ironhorse neighborhood about the relocation of the Rocky Mountain Power substation. The problem is that Park City is placing an electrical load on the system that it cannot handle. There is a looming threat that one morning we all turn on our espresso machines, and the power grid will fail. We would plunge into darkness. Within minutes, we would become Somalia.
It is a real risk. This is a community that lives on electricity, whether it is powering a six-pack chairlift, the compressors and pumps for the snow making, or the architectural lighting around the exquisite facades of the starter castles. If there's no power, there's not much else. So when Rocky Mountain Power said they needed to upgrade the substation to keep the lights on, people paid attention.
Power substations are ugly, and no amount of screening can change that. So when the developer of the surrounding property learned of the plans to expand the substation, he was happy to offer them an alternative location other than in the middle of the Bonanza Park development. Bonanza Park, if you haven't been paying a lot of attention, is going to be the most wonderful place in the universe. It will be a neighborhood of small apartments, interesting small shops, trendy restaurants and clubs, all done on a walkable scale. It is the perfect patch of over-planned, high-density, urban bliss in the mountains; a natural habitat for the mountain hipster.
Perfect in every way except for the power substation located smack dab in the middle of it. So the plan was to move it all over to the Ironhorse neighborhood with the help of some smoke-and-mirrors city financing. The neighbors were not amused, and fought it for a long time. In the end, the City decided that there wasn't time to make it all work and get the deal in place before we were plunged into darkness by excess electrical load.
The next chapter involved the discovery that the substation could be moved around a little within Bonanza Park. The substation could be expanded where it is, or moved a little bit to one side or another, so it wasn't right in the heart of things. That involved some land swaps with third parties. And then word came that they didn't need more space after all. They could increase the capacity right where they were, thank you. Never mind that last year.
And now, the news is that they don't even need to expand it. After all the churning and grinding that has gone on, the power company made the astounding discovery that electricity can move both directions. Instead of trying to push all the electricity into town to the Munchkin Road substation, they determined that they could bring additional power in from the south, from over in Midway where there is adequate capacity.
It's like they discovered an extension cord. Instead of running everything off one outlet in the kitchen, and blowing the fuses, they could run an extension cord to an outlet in the bedroom that is on a different breaker and still run the espresso machine without crashing the power grid. It sounds like a very good solution to the problem, even if it requires stringing about 10 miles of ugly power lines along Highway 40.
Something about this whole process erodes confidence. Midway has been there for a long time, and they have electricity. We spent the last year in a myopic examination of expanding the existing substation. It was nothing less than an existential crisis. Nobody at either the power company or the city could see beyond the city limits where there might have been options. Feeding power into the area from two directions seems like a great idea in terms of system reliability and alternative supply if something goes down on one or the other. You would think that might have been the starting point for the whole discussion instead of focusing in on the expansion/relocation alternative.
We have a tendency around here to study every issue to death. Never make a decision in a month if it can be dragged on for a year. As long as you are planning, you aren't actually doing anything. And if you aren't actually doing anything, you aren't making any mistakes. The analysis of this one went all the way back to Tesla's experiments with alternating current, but missed the idea of bringing power in from another direction. It's like nobody with any practical sense ever got involved until the janitor got the extension cord out of the basement and solved the problem. Meanwhile, the planners are still planning and the engineers are still engineering.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.