Investing in Reliability
As an area develops and grows, the skyline changes. In south Fargo and West Fargo, a flurry of expansion has left things looking much different than they did 10 years ago. While the most notable change to the horizon in this area is the recently completed Sanford hospital along Interstate 94, another large project meant to support the area’s overall growth is resulting in a few changes as well.
Minnkota Power Cooperative, the generation and transmission cooperative that Cass County Electric Cooperative purchases electricity from, is in the midst of the second phase of a three-phase, $30 million transmission network upgrade project in the Fargo and West Fargo area. Drivers along Veterans Boulevard in West Fargo may have taken notice of the progress this summer, as contractors working for Minnkota Power have been replacing existing wooden power poles with larger galvanized steel poles.
The new poles are larger because, to put it simply, the area now requires more power than it used to. More power means higher voltage transmission lines, and high voltage lines need to be further off the ground. For the power-savvy, the existing 69-kilovolt line is being upgraded to a 115-kilovolt double circuit (meaning there are two three-phase circuits on one set of structures). The double-circuit aspect of the new line effectively optimizes the usage of the right of way and allows for expansion well into the future.
Transmission power lines differ from distribution power lines in that they are required to transport electricity at much higher voltages in order to accommodate more power flow, greater distances, or both. For instance, just over 50 percent of the power used by CCEC members is delivered via transmission lines from the Milton R. Young power plant in Center, N.D. To get to West Fargo, that electricity must travel more than 200 miles.
Transmission lines feed into substations, where the electricity is reduced to voltages more appropriate for local distribution. As such, the smaller distribution power lines can often be buried underground, and overhead distribution lines are becoming a relatively rare sight in new developments. Though it is expensive to do so, existing overhead distribution lines can even be buried in some instances. High voltage transmission lines, on the other hand, must remain safely up high.
The first phase of Minnkota Power’s transmission enhancement project was completed in October 2016 with the commissioning of the Veterans substation near 32nd Avenue East and Veterans Boulevard in West Fargo. The upgraded lines involved in the project’s second phase will run from Veterans substation to Maple River substation in north Fargo. The second phase also involves upgrades at the substations to handle the higher voltage. Further substation upgrades will make up the project’s third phase, which is expected to occur in 2018.
Altogether, the project represents a major investment by Minnkota Power in the improvement of electric reliability. In the last decade, CCEC has added more than 16,000 active member accounts, the vast majority within the Fargo and West Fargo areas. As a result, demand for electricity has increased by almost 50 percent. In situations like this, upgrades to electric transmission infrastructure are essential in order to continue to meet demands and foster economic viability and growth of the area. Ensuring homes, schools, and businesses have safe, reliable energy is the shared mission of CCEC and Minnkota Power.