New Electrical Substation Increases Reliable Supply of Electricity for Campus

Tillson Farm Substation
Tillson Farm Substation

A new $26 million electrical substation at the University’s Tillson Farm property has linked the campus directly to major transmission lines to assure reliable power for decades to come.

Raymond Jackson, director of the Physical Plant, said the University’s Central Heating Plant normally provides 60-80 percent of the campus’s electricity, depending on the time of year, with most of that power delivered to the west side of campus where most of the research requiring electrical stability is.

Additional power is purchased through Eversource, successor to Northeast Utilities/WMECO.

The new substation project, which includes electrical duct banks, wiring and infrastructure, ties directly to regional high-voltage transmission lines. In the past, a car knocking out a local utility pole could have affected the campus power supply. Now, reliability is significantly increased.

Also, both east and west sides of the campus are now tied together, which also increases supply and reliability. The east side was online to the new substation in December, the west side in January.

Cost of the project, which was funded by the University of Massachusetts Building Authority, is about $26 million. UMass Amherst provided design and construction oversight. “We worked very closely with Eversource on design and construction and commissioning of the project,” Jackson said.

In addition, Eversource contributed about $14 million in upgrades to the regional transmission system, which means there is a significant increase in reliable electricity that is available to the region for future economic development.

The first year’s saving will be about $1 million, with a payback of about 12 years, Jackson said.

“This is another important example of our successful partnership with the University of Massachusetts and what we’ve been able to achieve,” said Craig Hallstrom, president of Massachusetts Electric Operations at Eversource. “In addition to saving the university more than $1 million through efficiency, we have greatly improved the reliability of service to the Amherst campus.”

UMass Amherst still pays transmission charges for the high-voltage lines, but no longer has to pay distribution charges for local lines.

There are other benefits. “Now we can do more sustainable on-site generation, with projects like the recently completed solar photo-voltaic project at Robsham Visitors Center, and there are more PV projects coming for the campus this year,” Jackson said.

The substation, which includes two main transformers, has an expected 40-year life and it is possible to add a third transformer. “We did make provisions for expansion, but that’s at least 20 years out,” Jackson said.

“As part of this, we upgraded our on-campus feeder system for more capacity,” Jackson said. That meant adding more than 50 miles of cables around the center of campus, in particular where new building projects like the Physical Sciences Building and the Integrative Learning Center have been centered.