by Dennis Dalman
Some St. Joseph residents may soon notice helicopters hovering near tall towers south of the city and explosive-sounding booms coming from high in the air.
Not to worry; it’s not an alien invasion. It’s the latest phase of the Excel Energy CAPX2020 power-transmission system that, when completed, will run from Fargo through the St. Joseph area and to the Quarry power substation west of the city – a distance of 210 miles. The route generally follows the I-94 freeway. There is also a route from Monticello to St. Cloud.
Construction of the towers and lines has begun between the stretch between Melrose and St. Cloud and should be completed this fall. Nearly one-third of the line is completed, and work is either finished or nearly finished from Fargo to Alexandria, according to an update from CapX2020 released this month.
The line will run west to east a few miles south of the City of St. Joseph. Work on the line began in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2015. It originates in the Bison substation just west of Fargo.
CapX2020 is a joint project of 11 transmission-owning utilities that will expand the transmission grid to meet an ever-increasing demand for energy in Minnesota and the surrounding region. There are five major transmission-line routes being constructed throughout the state, including the one from Fargo to St. Cloud. The utilities involved are investor-owned electric cooperatives and municipals.
The power lines will be strung on top of steel towers that will vary in height from 75 feet to 150 feet. They will be placed anywhere from 700 feet to 1,000 feet apart. Helicopters are often used in the stringing of wires to the towers. In addition, implosive connectors are used to splice conductor joints and to connect conductors securely to the towers. That process creates a brief detonation accompanied by a bright flash and a loud “boom.”
CapX2020 officials have assured landowners and customers the lines are safe, and in case of some emergency the electricity can be quickly shut down in problem areas.
Acquiring easements from landowners for the transmission lines’ corridors was a lengthy, difficult process with some landowners reluctant to grant easements for safety concerns and other reasons.
The project is the first major grid upgrade in the state in 30 years.
CapX2020 officials say 25 percent of the electricity on the lines will originate from renewable energy sources, most from wind turbines.
The cost of the current phase of CapX2020 projects total about $1.7 billion, plus $200 million more for upsizing to double-circuit structures. Transmission costs of energy can comprise anywhere from 7 to 10 percent of a customer’s electric bill. According to CapX2020 officials, that would translate into about $2 more per month during the peak of line construction this year and next year.
The sheer size and extent of the Fargo to St. Cloud and St. Cloud to Monticello projects can be realized through the following statistics:
1,400 tower structures will be erected.
9 million feet of wire will be strung.
170,000 cubic yards of concrete will be poured. That is enough to build a 4-foot-wide sidewalk from Minneapolis to Toledo, Ohio.