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New high voltage line will connect area substations

A new 115 kV transmission line is going up in Hubbard County. It will link to the Long Lake and Badoura substations and eventually run to Pequot Lakes. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County growth, cabin renovation and harsh winters have been the impetus behind the construction of a new 115 kV transmission line through the region.

The $21 million, 33-mile high voltage line will connect the Long Lake substation to others along a central Minnesota corridor, said Chuck Lukkarilla, project manager for Great River Energy.

Great River is building the new lines with Minnesota Power, which serves the municipalities in the region. GRE is the power wholesaler, providing electrical service to 28 member distribution cooperatives, including Itasca-Mantrap, which serves the rural areas of the county.

"There's been some issues in the past with low voltages and under voltages," said Dave Kempf, senior transmission planner for GRE, addressing the reliability issue. That was one reason the lines were approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

When Great River planners sat down earlier this decade and projected its load forecast, the prognosis was bleak if generators couldn't keep up with demand, according to GRE's regulatory filing. The Certificate of Need was filed in 2005. It was approved the following year after a series of public hearings were conducted.

"We've seen significant growth, especially in the lakes areas, so both MP and GRE have seen a need," Kempf said.

"Most of the transmission built in this area has been built fairly long ago except for some recent updates to the Park Rapids/Hubbard area," he added. "Otherwise the rest of the system is fairly old, been around since the 1980s and before. Some of it dates back to the 1940s."

Power companies have seen 15 to 20 percent growth annually for years, Kempf said, although it has slowed recently. Still, growth in the past two years approaches 10 percent.

"It's based on the conversion of homes and cabins to lakeside homes, a lot of people using electric heat, conversions of electrical equipment like analog TV to high definition plasma TV. It uses more power," he said.

The redundant line will be triple the capacity of the existing lines, he said. The work should be done by late fall, he said, bringing the system on line for the winter.

"With the cold winter we had (in 2009) we had some very significant use up there," he said of the Hubbard County region.

And agricultural applications, such as the Lamb Weston RDO plant, are also driving the need to more reliable power. Large potato cooling systems take large amounts of electricity to run, Kempf said.

But he also cited growing industrial needs as well.

Additionally, many homeowners have converted propane-heating systems to electrical and off-peak systems, Kempf said.

"In the lakes area, these small cabins are being torn down and Taj Mahals are being put up in place of them," he said.

Even if the conversion of older cabins is to more modest dwellings, many homeowners are installing electric heat options.

Great River has no plans to abandon the existing lines, but smaller distribution lines are being converted to transmission lines to serve the city of Park Rapids, he said.

"The two lines will co-exist so if one of the lines fails the power can flow on the other line," Kempf said.

The overall project has numerous phases. The transmission lines going through Park Rapids eventually run to the Badoura substation. Lines will then run from Badoura to Hackensack, serving Walker and Akeley.

From Hackensack, a line will run through Backus to Pine River, then on to Pequot Lakes.

The cost of the line will be passed on to customers, Great River officials say, but will be minimal compared to the overall cost of upgrading the entire grid, Kempf said.

"My concern is that if the area continues to see double-digit growth we may have to build more," he said.

At the end of this year, trees will be cleared for additional segments of the line. Two of the five substations along the route, at Badoura and near Long Lake, underwent upgrades last summer.