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Placement of utilities is important near wind farm  

Credit:  New Richmond News, www.newrichmond-news.com 11 April 2012 ~~

Everyone is familiar with the electrical rural distribution lies. The sight of a line of poles and probably two wires out by the road in front of the house is considered normal. The power company will obtain an easement from the land owner to construct the line. Construction on private property vs. in the road right of way provides a safety buffer.

Telephone facilities are kept on private property as much as possible also. The buried facilities for the telephone usually are only placed in road right of way as a last resort. Highway departments issue right of way permits reluctantly because of the complications involved with necessary highway maintenance and the significant delays involved. Utility outages also cause complications that the highway departments want to avoid if at all possible.

Transmission lines that carry the larger voltages are usually routed across country or setback from the highway at greater distances than our distribution lines for a reason. Fewer complications for access with landowners when maintenance issues arise and a safety zone are desirable.

The need to shut down traffic for construction and maintenance would impact the decision on easements. Visual impact is also lessened. Buried distribution lines are used in some areas, but power companies would rather keep facilities above ground because significant cost differences and visual inspection purposes. Burying of high voltage transmission lines are usually avoided if at all possible. Cost escalation, safety issue with excavation within the route, construction too close to buried facilities, and loss of visual inspection capability. This is only a short list of the many factors taken into consideration when a project is laid out and easements are acquired.

There is very good reason why wind developers have very restrictive easements with landowners. The land owner signs an agreement restricting development anywhere around the turbine site and over and around the collector routes. Protecting the investment. Obviously the 48- inch trench depth is helpful, but power post hole diggers, backhoes and crawler tractors sometimes have been known to stray into uncharted territory. Easement agreements have allowances built in, with the developer’s permission.

The planned wind development in the Town of Forest indicates about 18 miles of road right of way placement of the 34,500 volt transmission lines (collector circuits). Interconnection and associated equipment will also need to be placed in close proximity. The possibility of accidental contact is a concern not to be ignored. Any maintenance with signage, such as annual road weight restrictions, occasional broken posts for traffic control signs, culvert repair or replacement are just a few concerns.

The telephone utility has parallel buried facilities that are on private property easements. The need for upgrades and repair will be of concern in the close proximity to these high voltage transmission lines. Past experience has taught that accurate records and proper warning signs leave much to be desired. Warning signs have a strange habit of moving or tipping over or hiding behind weeds and rush. Many in our work force are now contractors of part-time employees. The danger lurking, unseen, just below our feet is far greater than realized. Accurate locating or underground facilities is the only way to know where the facility is.

Adherence to this, every time work needs to be performed is the only safe way. Electronic locating and records can only be trusted so far. A worker with a shovel is the accepted way to expose the facility. This way protects the investment. Who will protect the worker when contact is made with the 34,500 volt transmission line? The only safe way to operate in this environment would involve shutting down the power line before any locating or digging is done.

In conclusion, the promise of financial rewards to the county and township are miniscule in comparison to the potential for litigation. The vast amount of authorized placement of underground high voltage transmission facilities on public property reduced the long-term risk to the developer.

Unfortunately this shifts the risk to the public sector. When will the gain stop and the pain start?

Laverne Hoitomt

Town of Forest

Source:  New Richmond News, www.newrichmond-news.com 11 April 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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