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CapX2020 advancing: Helicopters, implosives next phase for transmission line

A new phase of construction on the CapX2020 project between Bemidji and Grand Rapids will start next week.

With 215 large support structures in place between Cass Lake and Cohasset, the next phase calls for helicopters to install conductor wires between the supports.

Crews also will use implosive connectors to splice transmission conductor joints, with the goal of stringing the transmission wire by the end of April.

"(Drivers) may see some of the helicopter work," said Cindy Kuismi, project communications specialist for Otter Tail Power Co., the lead energy company involved with the CapX2020 project. "We want to make sure they aren't slowing down, stopping, causing accidents."

A 230-kilovolt transmission line between the Wilton Substation near Bemidji and the Boswell Substation near Grand Rapids follows a 70-mile route of existing pipelines, including along U.S. Highway 2 from Cass Lake to Ball Club.

Construction began in January 2011 and is expected to be complete later this year. Once the transmission line between Cass Lake and Cohasset is complete, crews will work on installing supports between Cass Lake and the Wilton Substation west of Bemidji.

The latest phase isn't expected to prompt road closures, but there may be reduced speeds in areas. The wires will cross Highway 2 near Pike Bay and three miles east of it.

The start of work using helicopters and implosive devices on the Bemidji-Grand Rapids line will depend on weather, Otter Tail officials said.

In addition, Todd Langston, construction manager for Otter Tail, said Tuesday that colder weather would help the project as some areas are too wet to access by land and lessen the environmental impact by equipment on the ground.

"We want to have as little environmental impact as possible," Kuismi said.

The implosive connectors used to splice transmission conductor joints involve a split-second detonation, creating a flash and a loud boom that sounds similar to a shotgun blast. The work will be done during daylight hours Mondays through Saturdays.

Eleven utilities, including Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power, backed the CapX2020 transmission project to improve the reliability of electrical service and expand power transmission capacity to accommodate expected growth in the Red River Valley, Alexandria and northern Minnesota.

The utilities' are building the 230-kilovolt connection from Bemidji to Grand Rapids and three 345-kilovolt lines.

As the area grows, additional electricity capacity is needed, making the CapX2020 project important for future growth and service reliability, said Kuismi, adding studies dating back a decade show the need for higher-voltage transmission lines.

Proponents of CapX2020, a heavily permitted project requiring approval from multiple federal and state agencies, said it will provide new ways to transmit wind-generated electricity from the west. Opponents have questioned whether the additional transmission capacity was needed.

The three CapX2020 345-kilovolt electric transmission lines call for a 250-mile line from Fargo, N.D., to Monticello, roughly following the Interstate 94 corridor, a 200-mile line from South Dakota's Brookings County to south of St. Paul and a 150-mile line in southeastern Minnesota.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

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