Freezing temps aid transmission project

Crews from Xcel Energy were busy drilling holes and pouring concrete bases for new steel transmission line poles along Highway 5 just north and west of NYA this week and last week. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)
Crews from Xcel Energy were busy drilling holes and pouring concrete bases for new steel transmission line poles along Highway 5 just north and west of NYA this week and last week. (Times staff photo by Paul Downer)

Even to the untrained eye, it has been clear to anyone traveling along Highway 5 or County Road 51 between Norwood Young America and Waconia over the past several months that a major electrical project is underway.

And while daytime high temperatures that failed to crack 0 degrees Fahrenheit had most area residents huddling  indoors whenever possible early this week, the frigid weather has actually helped facilitate work to upgrade about 20 miles of transmission lines between Glencoe and the West Waconia substation located near Hydes Lake on Highway 5.

“This is a great time to do construction, especially when you have soil disturbance activities, and especially in wetlands. Then it’s a minimal impact,” said Xcel Energy’s Tim Rogers, siting and permitting supervisor for the project. “A lot of our permit conditions describe minimizing impacts to plants and soils. So we use matting if it’s spring or summer, but in the winter we can just drive on the frozen ground. We do try to do a lot of our work in the winter, especially in wetland areas.”

This winter, with minimal snow and relatively mild temperatures overall, has been well-suited for work, but even this week’s drop in temperatures did nothing to slow the project.

“In talking with the crew leaders [last week], they were excited about the  cold weather,” said Rogers. “They thought they could get some good work done. Cold weather really helps these folks.”

The work now visible is the product of a planning and design process that included a pair of public information meetings in NYA during March of 2011 that attracted around 50-60 local residents. Those individuals posed questions about easements, right-of-way issues, vegetation removal and possible health and safety risks from stray voltage and electronic and magnetic fields (EMF) during the meetings — issues which were dealt with in an environmental assessment as part of the project application process.

Tom Hoen, an NYA native now serving as a media relations representative with Xcel Energy, explained that the project is part of an effort to meet an increased demand for electricity in the area.

“The need for the Glencoe to Waconia transmission project is to handle the load growth that we have seen in that area over the years as well as bolster the electrical system and improve service reliability for our customers by replacing the 69kV line with 115kV line,” he said.

For NYA residents, the most relevant portion of the project is the elimination of transmission lines running through a residential area to the substation on the north side of town. Currently, the lines run near County Road 34 into city limits from the west, then exit the city  to the north out to Highway 5.

“We thought it would be a better idea to take the transmission service out of those backyards and run it along Highway 5,” Rogers said during the planning stages of the project, adding that those poles in town would stay in place to carry distribution lines after the transmission lines are removed, but could likely be cut shorter.

With that transmission route through NYA eliminated, Xcel Energy crews are constructing a new segment of line about one mile in length just across Highway 5 to the north and west of city limits that will bridge the gap. Weathered brown steel poles anywhere from 60 to 80 feet in height will be used to carry a single-circuit line along that stretch, and foundation crews were busy drilling holes and setting concrete bases for those new poles both this week and last week.

The project also includes upgrading a section of transmission lines from the West Waconia substation south along County Road 51. That new double-circuit 115 kV line is carried on poles anywhere from 75 to 105 feet tall. In addition, the project involves various substation improvements in the work area.

If all goes according to plan, construction work on the upgraded line will be complete in early April, and the in-service date should be late June or early July.

Contact Paul Downer at [email protected]