ComEd Offers a Peek at its Prettiest Substations

By Kathleen Davis, senior editor; pictures courtesy of ComEd

ComEd gave us a look at some of its best substation designs in Chicago this month. Blending art and utility seems almost natural when one looks at the substation designs at the Magnificent Mile and the South Loop.

In addition to supplying some great photos, ComEd allowed us a short chat with transmission project manager David Schultz about the difficulties of urban engineering and his flights of fancy when it comes to substation design.

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MAGnificent MILE The downtown ComEd substation building at State and Ontario streets just west of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile houses 138kV transmission bus equipment. Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman designed it in the same postmodernist style he used on the Hard Rock Cafe located immediately to the west. The templelike features on the entrance mimic similar ornamentation seen on many downtown skyscrapers, as well as on the Hard Rock building.Click here to enlarge image

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UAE: Is it difficult to adapt T&D engineering nto the small spaces allotted in urban environments?

Schultz: It has not been difficult, actually. Europe has been installing substations in compact urban spaces for many years, and much of the equipment we are using in our urban settings comes from European designs. In fact, we have several substations built in the ’70s which pioneered the design concepts we are using today.

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Loop ComEd’s South Loop substation at 10 E. 14th Place is an outdoor facility that includes a more ornamental wall and landscaping to minimize the facility’s prominence. The surrounding neighborhood is residential and commercial, and some portions of the wall include vines and punch-out portions filled with glass block to replicate older residential apartments in Chicago.Click here to enlarge image

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UAE: How does working on the “look”–the aesthetics–of a substation impact community relations and make your community interactions harder or easier?

Schultz: There are several issues with community relations when it comes to locating a substation. Many want the electricity, but they don’t want the equipment that brings the electricity to them in their neighborhood. The more we can get the substations to fit into the surrounding neighborhood and be a considerate neighbor, the less opposition there will be to needed construction.

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Jefferson By comparison, ComEd’s new Jefferson substation southeast of downtown Chicago is located in a more industrial area. Consequently the facility is open-air and with more minimal architectural features. Still, ComEd invests in some sidewalk landscaping and wall details to avoid a completely barren streetscape.Click here to enlarge image

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UAE: What’s your favorite substation in the Chicago area (city and suburbs) and why?

Schultz: As an architect and a utility engineer, the State Street site would be my favorite substation (Magnificent Mile, see page 16). It is the perfect blend of aesthetic design for the facade and technical design for the equipment and operating part of the substation. The pedestrians on the street cannot see that this substation has 138kV transmission bus equipment inside. The gas-insulated 138kV bus allows this substation to switch around transmission line problems, unlike a radially fed distribution center.

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WEST Loop ComEd’s new substation building at Madison and DesPlaines streets is located in Chicago’s near West Loop neighborhood known for new residential high-rises, loft conversions and restaurants. Using beige and red bricks common to the area, the structure could be easily confused for a local Walgreen’s. The building’s use of niche ironwork, a corner tower and landscaping also disguises that the facades are windowless.Click here to enlarge image

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UAE: If you could design your fantasy substation, what would you house it in–or would the exterior look be important to you at all?

Schultz: Ever since I joined the company 29 years ago, we have been looking to replace the Dearborn Substation in the Loop located across the street from the Chicago’s Picasso sculpture. My fantasy substation would be a transmission substation inside the Loop with 200 MVA of transformer capacity, four 138-kV lines feeding an 8-position ring bus, two 12-kV ring buses with 18 feeders each, built aesthetically to blend into downtown. Building it on Block 37 would have been best, but that opportunity is now gone.

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CLYBOURN Some downtown locations do not require much architectural detail. In the case of the ComEd substation at Ohio and Clybourn just north of the Loop, the substation’s location is near some loft conversion buildings, but also alongside an expressway feeder ramp and away from typical pedestrian traffic. The goal here was simply to mask the facility with a partially covered, partially open-air design.Click here to enlarge image

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UAE: Aesthetics aside, what’s your most important issue with substation design today?

Schultz: Getting capacity built in areas that need it. Many areas of Chicago are renovating, and electric loads in these areas are higher than they were even 10 years ago. To continue to support the growth and modernization of Chicago, it will be necessary to make improvements in the electrical infrastructure. These improvements will include the installation of more substations and transmission facilities to support the growing load.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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