Transmission upgrade in Bemidji, Minn., delayed a year

Otter Tail Power (NYSE:OTP) hopes to obtain regulatory approval for a transmission upgrade project in the city of Bemidji, Minn., by the end of the 2013, approximately a year later than originally planned, because of delays associated with permitting activities.

“The preliminary engineering for the permitting took longer than expected,” an Otter Tail spokesperson told TransmissionHub Sept. 27.

The Bemidji transmission upgrade project will upgrade a portion of the area’s 69-kV transmission to 115 kV and modify four area substations to accommodate projected load growth in the area. Without the reliability enhancements, the utility has expressed concerns that the projected growth in demand could overload the existing system.

Otter Tail notified the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) an Aug. 12, 2012 that it had elected to seek local approval from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, as it was allowed to do under the state’s Power Plant Siting Act (Docket No. E017/LR-12-888).

The project is still under review by the planning board. While that review includes ongoing public involvement, including public meetings as recently as Sept. 25, the utility says there is little opposition to the project.

“There isn’t push-back from the community,” the spokesperson said. “This is an upgrade to their existing system, it’s on existing right-of-way, and there will be six fewer miles of line altogether.”

Otter Tail currently operates a 69-kV transmission line that extends from the Bemidji 115-kV substation to the Bemidji Nymore substation, the Bemidji 25 Street substation, and the Bemidji University substation. Rebuilding the 69-kV lines to 115-kV would remove overload concerns while also boosting the reliability of the transmission line with enhanced shielding, which will protect the lines from lightning.

The company will also construct 12.5-kV express feeder ties that will allow the utility to protect against the contingency of loss of a distribution substation for an estimated 15 years, assuming 2% annual load growth, it said.

The system to be upgraded runs in an arc through the west side of Bemidji, and route adjustments will reduce the length of that arc by six miles, the spokesperson said. In all, approximately eight miles of line will be upgraded. While the higher voltage lines will require taller support structures, there will be fewer of them when the process is completed, reducing the line’s overall visual impact, the spokesperson said.

Otter Tail’s original schedule anticipated concluding the local and state permitting process during 4Q12 but that process is now expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

“We need to see the permit by the end of the year so that we can start construction and maintain the [revised] schedule,” the spokesperson said.

In the meantime, project development began earlier this year and will be completed, including easement acquisition, in 2014. Construction is expected to begin in 2015 and continue in three phases, with completion of the final phase in 2021.

Total cost of the project is estimated at $10.5m.