NICHOLS, S.C. – A team of engineers, supervisors and staff from Duke Energy met with Marion County officials to provide information and on new flood protection and grid strengthening improvements at the Nichols substation Wednesday.
Engineer Charlie Sandifer said the $1.6 million dollar project was an investment in the system ahead of hurricane season.
Hurricane Mathew and Hurricane Florence flooded the Nichols substation in 2016 and 2018, he said, resulting in a team organized to help prevent the sites from becoming inundated with water.
Duke Energy spokesperson Ryan Mosier said the barrier for the Nichols substation is the only one in South Carolina. Protective flood barriers are also constructed at substations in North Carolina, including Lumberton and Wallace, which saw substantial flooding from Hurricane Florence.
“We wanted to come up with a system that would prevent flood waters from the Lumber River from impacting this substation,” Mosier said. “We’ve had other substations have some impacts from flooding so we’ve invested in these seven substations.”
The Nichols substation was off-line for five weeks due to Hurricane Florence, Mosier said.
Mosier said it’s important to make sure the electric grid is providing power to families for decades to come, including new technology.
“The impact that these measures are going to have on this substation will keep it hot,” he said. “Our team had to really do some research to make this happen.”
Mosier said the company was proud to be the first utility to make those types of efforts.
Mindy Taylor, Duke Energy’s district manager for government and community relations kicked-off the discussion at Nichols Town Hall.
“Duke Energy has been actively preparing for hurricane season,” Taylor said. “We’re making significant investments in our system to make sure they’re resilient to all kinds of weather.”
After the presentation the crowd gathered for a demonstration at the substation site, completely surrounded by the flood walls. The project was completed in 2020 to help protect the power grid from outages and extensive damage.
The reinforced walls are made of a non-conductive fiberglass material with aluminum access gates. The gates are installed when the company forecasts potential flooding. Crews can also quickly access the substation for maintenance. The walls are 6- to 8-feet high depending on expected flood levels and anchored 12-to-25 feet underground.
Officials said the substations are a critical part of the grid, taking electricity carried by high-voltage lines from a power plant and converting it to a lower voltage through power lines. The Nichols substation also provides service to homes in Lake View and Green Sea Floyds.
Duke Energy supervisor for the Marion County area Davy Gregg called it a great investment.
“We’ve had a struggle the last few years with the flood waters getting into the substation but Duke Energy really stepped-up to the plate,” he said. “They put a big investment in the community and it really helps us out.”
Gregg said three additional substations in Mullins and Marion are secured on higher ground.
Nichols Mayor Lawson Battle called the project great for the town.
“Duke taking the initiative to make investments like this can keep things powered back up,” he said. “It helps get everything back the quicker the better.”
Battle said he thinks the support is wonderful.
Sen. Kent Williams said the project means reliability.
“They really invested in the community and they’re preparing,” Williams said. “This substation flooded and that meant people would be without power much longer. Investing in this to prevent the substation from being flooded in the future can restore power to the customer a lot quicker.”
Williams said he liked the proactive approach.
Nichols is near the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers with flood stages above 20 feet.
Mayor Battle said the town continues to recover but making progress.
Two years ago Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina Floodwater Commission Chairman Tom Mullikin with more than 300 volunteers led a debris and drainage system clean-up effort. DMA Holdings, Inc. is expanding operations with the opening of a new 377,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center. Meanwhile, the Nichols Fire Department has added new boats and a new ATV for brush fires along with search and rescue efforts.
“It’s wonderful for us to be able to get power a lot sooner and start working on recovery,” he said. “We’re trying to get more industry and more people buying homes and repairing them. We’ve got a lot of good things on the table.”