Transmission line to carry new generation rerouted after city of Wasilla, Alaska objects

Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) is studying new routes for a proposed transmission line upgrade after the city of Wasilla, Alaska, objected to the 80-foot power poles that would be required to support a 115-kV line to carry power from a new generation facility.

The transmission line, which would have been an upgrade of an existing facility with 45-foot towers, was to bring power to Wasilla from the utility’s new Eklutna generation station that is being built on the northern end of the municipality of Anchorage.

“Wasilla has encouraged several major transportation corridors to go through the center of the community to help drive their businesses,” an MEA spokesperson told TransmissionHub Jan. 11. “Now, we need to increase our distribution presence to serve all of those businesses.”

The utility’s analysis indicated the best way to do that was to follow an existing right-of-way (ROW) along the George Parks Highway, which runs through the middle of Wasilla. At an estimated cost of $3.8m, upgrading the existing line was the utility’s “least cost” option. However, MEA revised its plans when city leaders objected to the taller towers along one of the city’s main traffic arterials.

“We have decided to back off of that route and are looking at other routes where we can bypass the city of Wasilla with the transmission lines and yet still tie into the substation that primarily serves Wasilla,” the spokesperson said. “We’re looking at other possible routing options that take advantage of other nearby rights-of-way.”

MEA plans to build the new transmission needed to carry the power in two phases. The first phase is a new 20-mile, double-circuit transmission line from the switchyard adjacent to the generation station to MEA’s Hospital substation near the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer, Alaska. That line would be built to 230-kV standards but would initially be operated at 115-kV.

The second, shorter transmission line, which will connect the Hospital substation to the Herning substation in downtown Wasilla is the line that would have gone through town. MEA is evaluating four options, which range from 6.4 miles to 12.9 miles in length, and with estimated price tags ranging from $5.7m to $9m.

The utility is building the new generation station and transmission to accommodate growth in the area northeast of Anchorage.

“The new generation station is intended to serve communities from Eagle River north to Talkeetna,” the spokesperson said, noting that the area is approximately the size of West Virginia.

The new generation station will employ Wärtsilä generation technology, a dual-fuel technology that primarily relies on a mix of 99% natural gas and 1% diesel fuel for normal operations, but which can seamlessly switch to diesel fuel when needed.

MEA plans to pour the concrete foundations for the power blocks in March, to allow sufficient time for the material to cure before the two generation units are delivered and installed, which is scheduled for September and October.

The facility will generate 170 MW of power when completed in 2014. The cost of the project, including generation and transmission, is estimated to be $265m.