Workers make progress on city power line project

With Vermillion's contract to receive electric power from East River Electric Cooperative scheduled to expire in less than five months, crews are quickly making progress on the construction of a new looped 115 kV power line from the Spirit Mound substation located north of Vermillion to the city.

"The actual physical construction work began in April. The crews worked along some of the roads that didn't have load limits on them first," said City Manager John Prescott.

Main contractor for the project is Karian Peterson Power Line Contracting of Montevideo, MN. The firm has set all of the poles in the west leg of the project, and had begun placing poles in place in the east leg of the project approximately three weeks ago.

"When we were talking with the public, we were looking at whether we would use steel or wood poles, depending on how the bids came out and the costs of everything, and we got some very favorable bids, so all of the poles that are being installed with this project are steel," Prescott said.

The project has not been without controversy. City leaders first proposed constructing the power line from the Spirit Mound substation in July 2008. For that to occur, however, the city needed permission from the Clay County Commission to place power poles for the new transmission lines along the right of way of several county roads.

Commissioners, after hearing from both city officials and people who live in the vicinity of where the proposed line would be located, decided to deny the city's request. That prompted the city to seek court action.

Citizens residing near the proposed lines' route listed a number of concerns — from traffic safety and the possible negative affect the lines could have on one's health, to the detrimental affect the lines would have on scenery and windbreaks in cases where trees would have to be trimmed. The negative feedback received compelled the county commission to refuse granting the use of the county road right-of-ways for the transmission line.

That lead to a day-long face-off in the summer of 2008 between the city and the county in a civil hearing brought heard by Circuit Judge Steven Jensen. Jensen eventually decided that Vermillion should be allowed to place the power lines in the right-of-ways of Clay County roads.

The center of the poles, he ordered, would be placed two feet from the public highway right-of-way so that they don't enter adjacent real property. The judge's decision included other factors designed to alleviate, as much as possible, any hardship on private property owners. He ordered that power poles be placed in such a way to avoid or reduce tree trimming in shelter belts as much as possible. The city also must place the power line poles from 230 feet to 300 feet apart, Jensen ordered, to minimize their view from residence dwelling structures.

The judge's stipulations weren't enough to stop opposition to this project. Petitions were circulated in the city, and enough signatures were collected to put this issue to a public vote in January 2009. Vermillion voters overwhelmingly approved the project.

The city's plan include the construction of approximately 20 total miles of a looped 115 kV power line from the Spirit Mound substation to the existing substation at the Municipal Service Center located at W. Duke Street.

At the time of the referendum, city leaders had estimated total cost of the project would be approximately $8 million.

"I think it's probably going to be closer to a $7 million project," Prescott said last week. "Maybe even less than that. There are always a few items that are based on quantity as you do the project, so we are looking at less than anticipated costs compared to what we thought in January 2009.

"Unless we run into unforeseen issues at this point in time, right now we are looking at a project that is going to be perhaps more than a half million dollars below the engineer's estimate," he said.

The city will pay for this project by using $2 million of Light & Power reserves, and the balance of the project will be bonded and repaid over 25 years.

In May 2008, MRES (Missouri River Energy Services) announced a new program which would benefit the Vermillion transmission line project. If member transmission facilities representing at least 300 MW are leased to MRES, they will make annual lease payments to Vermillion equal to 14 percent of the city's infrastructure investment, and approximately $7 million of the city's investment would qualify.

"Without this agreement, building the transmission lines still has a positive return to the community," Prescott said during a public meeting held in January 2009 shortly before the city referendum on the project, "of less than 15 years, There will be a positive return to the community over 40 years without the Missouri River Energy Services agreement, and if we have that agreement, it will be a $37 million savings to the community."  

The looped system is designed to be more a more reliable way for Vermillion to receive electrical power. Currently, there is no redundancy of electric lines in the last quarter mile to the city, from South Dakota Highway 50 to the city's main substation.  

The project currently being constructed includes two separate power lines built from the Spirit Mound substation to the city substation. The Spirit Mound substation also has two backup generators, and is fed from multiple sources. If for some reason there is a problem and the Spirit Mound substation wouldn't be receiving electricity, the substation would have the ability to generate their own through the backup generators at Spirit Mound.

"Largely, the project is being constructed as planned, including some cost savings," Prescott said. "Unless, of course, we run into unforeseen circumstances that we aren't aware of."

The exact time that electric power will be transmitted through the lines to the city from the Spirit Mound substation has not yet been determined. "Our agreement (with East River) expires at the end of this calendar year, but at this point in time, I don't have a switchover date, of when we might be utilizing those lines," he said.

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