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New Kensington water authority plugs into $120,000 freebie

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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Getting a new piece of equipment that is certain to save money on electricity might be considered a good deal.

But getting that equipment, worth $120,000 — for free — is that much better.

That's the deal that the Municipal Authority of the City of New Kensington, the water authority, has landed.

Benshaw, a division of Curtiss-Wright that is in the RIDC Park, O'Hara, makes electrical controls.

The company is providing, for free, a variable speed control for use in powering a 600 horsepower motor that helps run the water system's pumps.

Jim Matta, the authority's general manager, said Benshaw company representatives were at the plant a couple of months ago to upgrade controls used to start the massive pumps. He said they noticed a control installed in the 1980s on the 600 hp pump and offered to replace it.

“They said they would be willing to provide the variable speed unit — which costs about $120,000 — for no cost as long as we would allow them to monitor the unit remotely 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Matta said.

While the control, itself, is free, the water authority will have to pay for its installation, building a pad to hold it and upgrading the electrical service.

That work is expected to cost $17,000, Matta said.

Charles Cook, manager of product development for Benshaw's medium voltage division, explains why Benshaw made the offer.

“It's a new product introduction for us and this is part of the product launch,” Cook said.

“We need to get this product out in the field and get some run time so we can get confidence in the product out in the marketplace.”

Cook said a similar product test on the control also is being done to operate ventilation fans at a West Virginia coal mine.

Matta said he, plant superintendent Ed Pavilonis and an electrical engineer from Gibson-Thomas Engineering, the authority's engineers, visited Benshaw on Oct. 1 to learn more about the control and what it involved. The authority approved the deal three days later.

The controls will allow the pump's motor to run at various speeds.

“Picture a fan (for which) you can vary the speed,” Matta said.

“You can run it at 60 percent speed or 80 percent. If you didn't have a variable speed control on it then you would have to run it at 100 percent full time.”

He said previously, motors had no variable speed controls so they always had to run at 100 percent power.

If the water demand did not call for maximum capacity, plant operators usually closed down a water valve to reduce the flow, but the motor still ran at 100 percent power, wasting electricity, Matta said.

Exactly how much the authority will save has not been calculated, Matta said.

“We know that it is going to lower our overall operational costs and therefore help maintain consumer rates at what they are today,” he said.

“They will experience a savings and they will have much more reliable controls,” Cook said.

“It's a good proposition for both Curtiss-Wright Benshaw and the New Ken Water Authority.”

Matta said he hopes the new control, which Cook said measures about 5 feet high, 5 feet wide and 3 feet deep, will be installed before the holiday season.

“Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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