Austin's core is powered by two substations located in the Seaholm District and between I-35 and Waterloo Park. As part of its Repowering Downtown initiative to replace old infrastructure and build up power capacity amid Central Austin's population and development boom, AE has for years been eyeing the addition of a third station located south of River Street and the I-35 frontage road. And after years of delay, the Rainey Street Substation—located one block from Rainey—will begin construction later this month to serve the rapidly developing high-rise district and all of downtown.
The $30 million substation is set to take up less than 1 acre on a 1.46-acre site at 706 1/2 Lambie St., which AE bought in 1999 when planning for its future needs. AE originally planned to have the station up and running by 2020, although the timeline now stretches to early 2023. Opening the Rainey station will allow the power utility to move into its next planned steps of the Repowering Downtown program: an overhaul of its Brackenridge Substation to the north off I-35 and a conversion of its local transmission lines.
Austin Energy spokesperson Kim Doyal said the new facility will be weatherized to the same standards as the utility's other 78 substations, all of which had been protected from the elements prior to Winter Storm Uri earlier this year. The weatherization model will also be followed for the Brackenridge Substation upgrade in the future.
The new Rainey substation will add 210 megavolt amperes to AE's downtown network, boosting overall capacity by 50% from 420 MVA to 630 MVA.
The substation's path to groundbreaking has involved hundreds of Rainey-area residents who contributed to its final design and features in addition to AE's project team. While its main purpose is to bolster local grid capacity, the station will also include community-oriented features such as rain gardens and new landscaping, shared-use pathways with benches and bicycle racks, and several parallel parking spots with accommodations for electric vehicles. The facility will also be surrounded by a 12-foot wall covered with decorative fins, which project architect Donna Carter said were designed as a modern and colorful touch in line with the area's character.
"The backbone of it really was the community input that we got that really allowed us to focus on what we feel is the infrastructure becoming a real visual part of the downtown experience," Carter said.
Once construction is underway, AE said it anticipates minimal disruption to the residential and entertainment district already faced with frequent congestion and noise issues. Residents and passersby can expect to see the property fenced off in the near future before drilling begins, which the power utility said will likely bring several weeks of daytime noise. Station construction, landscaping and lighting will follow, and construction activity is set to flow off of the I-35 service road, according to AE.
"Right now, we aren’t planning for any closures in the area," Doyal said in an email. "Of course, it’s construction, and there are any number of issues that could crop up, but we’re committed to communicating with building managers and HOAs in the area should we need to perform closures."