GRE nearing completion of new transmission line

By the middle of this summer, Great River Energy will be done with a new 115-kilovolt transmission line project that will supply more electrical capacity to the region.

“A reliable power supply to the area allows for more economic development. Even if one large business came in now, we would use up all the capacity,” said GRE spokesperson Lori Buffington.

As of April 17, Great River Energy crews were working on stringing electrical conductor wire at the intersection of Bunker Lake Boulevard and Highway 47. GRE expects to have a new 5.8-mile 115-kilovolt transmission line energized by July. Photo by Eric Hagen
As of April 17, Great River Energy crews were working on stringing electrical conductor wire at the intersection of Bunker Lake Boulevard and Highway 47. GRE expects to have a new 5.8-mile 115-kilovolt transmission line energized by July. Photo by Eric Hagen

According to an October 2011 GRE route permit application to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, only about 12 megawatts of new load could be supported in the area. A data processing center alone could have a load requirement exceeding 10 MW. The city of Ramsey is studying whether it should market its old municipal center site for a data center.

Ramsey is also still working on developing the remaining 118 acres of The COR. There are largely undeveloped properties in the Highway 10 corridor from Ramsey through Elk River, including through prime Mississippi River frontage. Business park, commercial and medium to high density residential development are expected along this corridor.

The Anoka City Council in March approved a site plan for a new distribution substation at Sixth Avenue and Garfield Street is estimated to cost between $2.2 million and $2.5 million. The council this past December authorized spending nearly $1.2 million for two new electric transformers.

These Anoka Municipal Utility projects tie into GRE’s new 115-kV line and serve new load in the vicinity of the Rum River Library and down to the Northstar rail station, according to GRE’s route permit application.

“Electric reliability is a must but is rarely talked about, mainly because power reliability has been generally very good in our north metro area over the last few years,” said real estate broker Marty Fisher, who has or is marketing numerous properties that would be impacted by this project either by proximity to the new line or being serviced by it.

Fisher said if power disruptions became a problem, “it would rise to the top of the list over taxes and transportation.”

As of late last week, Great River Energy crews had put up 58 out of the 97 transmission line poles. Electricity is expected to be going through the new 115-kV lines by late July, according to Mike Walkowiak, field representative for GRE in charge of transmission construction and maintenance. The new line will not only add more electrical capacity for new development, but also take some of the strain off an existing 69-kV line that services the area.

The area where poles still need to be installed is south of Garfield Street in Anoka, by Sixth Street and then east across Federal Cartridge property before ultimately ending at the Crooked Lake Substation at the southwest corner of Main Street and Round Lake Boulevard in Coon Rapids.

Residents on Sixth Avenue in Anoka lost a lot of trees outside their back yards to make way for a new 115-kilovolt transmission line. Photo by Eric Hagen
Residents on Sixth Avenue in Anoka lost a lot of trees outside their back yards to make way for a new 115-kilovolt transmission line. Photo by Eric Hagen

The transmission line route north of Garfield Street goes along Seventh Avenue and then cuts west along Bunker Lake Boulevard before cutting south to end at the Enterprise Park Distribution Substation in Anoka near the Anoka Technical College.

The poles range in height from 80 to 120 feet. Some of the poles are wooden, some laminate wood and some are steel depending on many variables. For example, steel poles are needed when the line needs to change direction by an angle of greater than 15 degrees, Walkowiak said.

The route is 5.8 miles long. Great River Energy needs three times as much length of one-inch aluminum conductor wire with a steel core, according to Walkowiak. Although over half the poles are up, some do not have wires attached. When the large snowstorm hit April 16, crews were working on the southeast corner of Highway 47 and Bunker Lake Boulevard.

They would soon be stringing the wire conductors across Bunker Lake Boulevard without closing traffic. Walkowiak said they will install stringing blocks or sheave wheels on both structures on opposite sides of the road. They pull the ropes off the rope trailer reels, lift the ropes up and through stringing blocks and a person on one side of the road will hand the rope to the person on the other side of the road. This can be accomplished by using long ladder trucks stationed at both sides of the road.

Next, the rope will go through the stringing block and down to the trailer with the conductor on it. The rope is connected to the conductor and the rope is retrieved by pulling the conductor across the road. Both the rope and conductor trailers have brakes on them that can be adjusted so there is always enough tension so the rope and conductor do not sag near the road, Walkowiak said.

Great River Energy crews have to become accustomed to working through difficult elements in the winter in order to get projects done. Walkowiak said the most difficult area to work was by the Rum River because of the change in elevation. They worked in the winter so the ground was frozen when the heavy work trucks were near the usually softer soils by the river.

Another challenge for crews is not hitting underground utilities. Although Gopher State One Call is a great source for locating underground utilities, Walkowiak said there are still unknowns.

“Underground utilities are a challenge, in part because many of them were installed decades ago before the underground marking program was developed,” Walkowiak said. “The crews are very conscientious when they are looking for underground utilities. It is not an exact science but it has gone well.”

Tree removals are often part of transmission line projects. Great River Energy has even cut down trees or branches near existing transmission lines in recent years to meet more strict federal requirements.

Walkowiak said many large trees were removed in Anoka, especially near Seventh Avenue. Carr’s Tree Service has partnered with Great River Energy in the past and once again did the tree removals for this project.

Mik Mihl has lived in the Sixth Avenue neighborhood south of Garfield Street for 20 years. Over the years, the area has built out beyond what he envisioned. All the trees that once provided excellent screening to the back of his property are now gone to make way for the transmission line. He said he was unable to make it to any meetings about the transmission line because he works in the evening.

“I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.

Cheryl Johnson lives a couple of homes away from Mihl and has been in the neighborhood with her family for about three years. She said it was a nuisance to look out their back yard and see trees being ripped down. She had not followed the project closely when it was being routed and did not care that it was happening.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said.

Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen said she has not received any questions or concerns about the transmission line. Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe could not be reached for comment.

Anoka Mayor Phil Rice said the city and GRE did hear from other Sixth Avenue residents who were concerned about the project. This was the only neighborhood the city heard from. He believes that most were satisfied with the responses they got from GRE, but he suspects the city will hear from more residents now that they are seeing the concrete pads and tall poles going in.

Rice said Anoka did its best to keep the public informed, but sometimes people do not pay attention to what is going on. It is now too late to change anything though.

Rice said this project is akin to a road project or a water tower going up.

“This is what society is all about. We have to provide electricity, roads, sewer and water. It’s not always convenient, but we try to do the best we can,” he said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]