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New transmission project discussed in New England

NEW ENGLAND -- The proposed $33 million Belfield-to-Rhame transmission project was the topic of discussion Tuesday in New England during a public hearing with the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

The project is headed and will be constructed by Basin Power Cooperative of Bismarck, who submitted its application for a waiver of procedures and time schedules, certificate of corridor compatibility and route permit to authorize construction in April.

The plan for the transmission project is to take strain off already existing lines.

The transmission project will include construction of approximately 74 miles of 230 kV electric transmission line and associated facilities extending from an existing Belfield substation to a proposed new substation south of Rhame.

"The proposed project consists of a 230 kV transmission line from the Western Area Power Administration's existing Belfield substation east of Belfield to a new 230 kV substation to be built by Basin Electric south of Rhame," said Duey Marthaller, manager of civil engineering for Basin Electric.

The Basin Electric line, as well as the substation, will be constructed, owned and maintained by Basin Electric, Marthaller said.

As part of the construction, new communications systems, including an optical ground wire, will be installed on the transmission line.

"Basin Electric will extend its existing microwave system to provide redundant communication paths," Marthaller said. "This extension includes a new tower near the proposed Rhame substation and new tower on East Rainy Butte, southwest of New England."

Marthaller added that mobile radio communications will be needed for line maintenance and emergency radio communications, and the mobile radio system may also be used by local cooperatives.

The cost of the proposed new substation, which would be located near Rhame, would cost $12 million, with the transmission line costing $19 million and communication facilities costing $2 million.

To minimize the cost of the project, Marthaller says all efforts have been made to construct the facilities at the least amount of cost.

"All materials and services are competitively bid by qualified suppliers," Marthaller said. "Basin (Electric) will combine purchases with other projects to take advantage of volume pricing. Basin maintains its own facilities, minimizing the cost of contracted services."

The Bank of North Dakota, through the participation of Wells Fargo Bank, has loaned $25 million to Basin Electric to assist in the financing of the construction of transmission line, Marthaller added.

The proposed new Rhame substation would include one 30-by-60 foot building to enclose the protection and control equipment, station batteries, station service power equipment and communications equipment.

Another issue discussed at the meeting was the possibility of the corona of the 230 kV transmission line.

"Corona occurs when a high value of electric field strength at a conductor surface causes the air to become electrically ionized and to conduct, which produces a buzzing sound," said Pius Fischer, supervisor of electrical engineering for Basin Electric. "Transmission lines which operate at 230 kV generate corona at the surface of the conductor. This conductor corona can theoretically generate radio and television interference, audible noise and ozone."

Fischer went on to say that although these things could happen, they are at their highest levels during wet weather conditions, and the conductor chosen for the project will reduce but not totally eliminate the effects.

Fischer says the closest residence to the proposed substation is three-fourths of a mile away and no sound of the operation of the substation will be discernable outside of the residence.

Minimizing the effect on the environment was also a topic of discussion.

Kevin Solie, senior environmental analyst for Basin Electric, says when doing the initial research into the corridor, steps were taken to lay out the route that did not disturb wildlife or crop lands.

"The proposed corridor includes 323,515 acres of land, of which 92 percent are classified as cropland and/or grassland," Solie said. "The over arching goal of our selection of the proposed corridor was to identify a path which represents the most direct route between the two end points while simultaneously minimizing cultural, environmental and socioeconomic impacts."

In his testimony, Solie remarked that there were no areas where animal or plant species that are unique or rare to the state would be irreversibly damaged.

"Although state-sensitive animal and plant species occur within the proposed corridor, none of the species would be irreversibly damaged by construction activities," Solie said.

Solie also added that wherever cropland or farm land is damaged during the construction, landowners would be reimbursed by Basin.

Public Service Commission (PSC) President Susan Wefald asked Solie to submit a late file exhibit laying out the project's plan to avoid Whooping Crane disturbance, as well as an exhibit detailing any issues with the possible digging and mining of uranium pits by Formation, Inc.

Both late file exhibits will be submitted within three weeks, Solie said.

After the hearing, the PSC is expected to make a decision in approximately 30 days. If the decision is made to go ahead with the project, construction is set to take place from the fall of 2008 though December 2009.