Campus Electrical Master Planning & Distribution System Expansion

Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA



Lehigh University, located in Bethlehem, PA, has a sprawling footprint with three campuses encompassing more than 2,350 aces. The main part of the campus, named Asa Packer Campus, sits near the base of South Mountain. The Mountaintop Campus sits atop the mountain and is where the main 69kV substation feeds power to both campuses. Approximately 14 MW of electrical power is delivered to the campus from this substation.

Electrical lines mounted overhead on wooden poles ran up and down the steep mountain, through dense woods, distributing power to the campuses. All too frequently, falling trees and branches caused outages, impacting the campus and its 7,000 students.

We assisted the University in preparing an electrical master plan to identify and prioritize system needs for the expanding campus, including re-routing overhead distribution underground. We then engineered the recommended improvements and assisted the University during bidding and construction, including re-routing overhead distribution underground.

Solution Details

Utility Master Plan
Entech was initially contracted to determine the feasibility of replacing 8,000 feet of overhead lines to new underground electric ductbank. However, it became evident that the University would benefit in the long-term from a more comprehensive plan. Consequently, we provided a campus electrical master plan to evaluate the current state of the electrical distribution system, recommend upgrades to improve total system reliability, and plan for the anticipated expansion of the campus.

This plan allowed the University to develop a strategy for phasing and budgeting electrical utility improvements that could be coordinated with the many other building projects being planned for Lehigh’s campus.

Electrical Utility Upgrades
Although the master plan allowed improvements to be phased-in as project funds became available, the University decided to proceed with most of the electrical system improvements immediately, as construction of several new campus buildings was imminent. The University proceeded with a $10 million project to install underground electric cables from the Mountaintop Campus to new 12kV switchgear located at the lower campus and make additional system improvements.

A new electrical feeder with greater power capacity was installed to serve the campus, along with spare feeders should there be a cable failure. A new fiber optic telecom ductbank was installed alongside the power lines, improving the reliability of the campus tele-data system. Older 4kV electric lines, hanging from wooden poles through portions of the Asa Packer Campus, were replaced with underground cable. This upgrade allowed the University to begin switching many of the older buildings to the 12 kV electric supply and remove the aging 4kV poles and wires. Eventually the campus will be totally fed from the 12kV system, providing dependable system operation, and increasing flexibility for continued campus growth.

The design and construction of the project was completed on a fast-track basis to allow construction to occur during the summer and prior to the scheduled construction of new residence halls. Long lead items, such as switchgear and underground cables, were pre-purchased to eliminate potential delays. Work was coordinated with project managers from other campus building projects to minimize disruption to the campus during the multi-year construction period.

With the project complete, the University has more reliable and flexible electrical supply to the campus as well as sufficient capacity for the foreseeable future.

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8,000 ft. underground electrical

$10M campus electrical upgrade