AUSTIN (KXAN) — Drive around downtown Austin and you’ll notice construction cranes fill the skyline as the city continues to rapidly grow. With the rapid pace of development the city is experiencing, Austin Energy officials say it’s now close to exceeding the electrical facility requirements needed for the near and long-term future.
That’s why they’re working on Repowering Downtown Austin. It’s an initiative that will upgrade transmission lines, rebuild the existing Brackenridge Substation and add a third substation to serve the downtown network — the Rainey Street Substation.
Austin Energy first thought about the project in 1999 when they acquired the property behind Rainey Street near I-35 at Lambie Street. The project started to develop in 2018 with the community input process.
The new substation comes at a time when the Downtown Austin Alliance states in its 2021 State of Downtown Report that there are “23 buildings currently under construction and another 32 planned.” The report also highlights two apartment projects under development in the Rainey Street District that will add more than 600 rental units to the district.
Austin Energy officials say it’s all about resilience, and in order to do that you have to be reliable.
“The reason we have three robust stations for the downtown network is obviously that we need to add more energy, but we also want to add that resiliency,” Kim Doyal, the utility company’s community engagement consultant said. “If something happens with one transformer and one station or one area of town we can make up for it with all the other areas and all the other energy that we have.”
Austin Energy officials say the Rainey Street Substation was designed working alongside 600 Rainey Street residents. It is “uniquely designed to complement and enhance the local character of the Rainey Neighborhood.”
“They choose a modern surround that going to have some beautiful blue acrylic features on it and we also heard folks when they said they wanted to maintain the heritage trees on that side and those trees are going to stay there,” Doyal said.
The area will also support enhance the streetscape by adding lighting, benches, trash cans and electrical charging stations.
Here’s a timeline of construction on the Rainey Street Substation:
- Work to move existing water and wastewater lines from the property into the existing City of Austin street right of way. This portion of the project was completed in Spring 2020.
- A change in the property’s zoning from Residential to Public. Neighbors within 500 feet will be notified about the opportunity to provide input on this change.
- Construction of the substation and surrounding landscaping from throughout 2021.
- Construction of both underground and overhead power lines to tie the new substation to the downtown grid. This work will continue through early 2023.
- The Downtown Repowering Project also includes the upgrade of current transmission lines that power downtown to increase their capacity so they can bring in more power and improve reliability for the entire downtown network grid.
Once the new substation is complete in 2023, Austin Energy officials said they will then rebuilding the Brackenridge Substation and upgrading its transmission lines. The substation is more than 40 years old and currently, the utility company is in the design phase of the project.
Austin Energy will host a virtual public meeting Thursday from 5:30-7 p.m. where officials will showcase the final design and introduce the community to the construction contractor.