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Mountain Electric Begins Construction of Sugar Mountain Transmission Line

By Tim Gardner

     The mission statement of Mountain Electric Cooperative reads that it “will strive to fulfill our member’s needs for affordable electricity, utility related services and community support.” And the latest major manner its officials believe that Mountain Electric is fulfilling those objectives to those who use its services in Northern Avery County is through installation of a new transmission line.

     Mountain Electric has begun construction on the Sugar Mountain 69,000 volt (69 kV) Line that will connect a new electrical substation in the Village of Sugar Mountain to its 69 kV electrical grid near its Banner Elk Substation. The new substation will be called the Sugar Mountain Substation.

     The Sugar Mountain Transmission Line is being built within a 75 foot wide linear right-of-way easement owned by Mountain Electric. The length of the line will be approximately 4.15 miles, which includes approximately 3.0 miles of recently acquired right-of-way within which it will be built. It also includes an approximate 1.15 mile portion of an existing Mountain Electric transmission line right-of-way easement that runs between Banner Elk and Newland.

     “As transmission lines go,” said Richard Grubb, Mountain Electric’s Director of Operations and Engineering, “this project is very challenging and complex, even though the length of the line is relatively short.”

     Grubb attributes the challenges and complexity to the mountainous region and sensitive environmental resources that are present in the general vicinity of the line’s route. “From the outset of this project, Mountain Electric carefully planned each phase of work with the ultimate goal of balancing two critical objectives.

     “First, protecting environmental, cultural and scenic resources in the area was our primary concern. Second, selecting a line route through tough, mountainous terrain that facilitates construction and long-term maintenance was another key objective,” said Grubb.

     According to Grubb, the two objectives are closely related. When siting the route for the line, comprehensive environmental, cultural and scenic resource studies were conducted that allowed consideration of only those routes that would avoid or minimize any effects to them. While conducting those studies, Mountain Electric carefully analyzed terrain conditions along the alternate routes.

     Grubb noted that twelve alternate routes were analyzed before selecting the final route to confirm that line construction could be achieved in a safe, reasonable manner.

     The initial phase of line construction, which began about two weeks ago after Mountain Electric received all required project permits, includes clearing trees from the right-of-way, installing extensive erosion and sediment control measures and building access roads that will accommodate line construction, line maintenance equipment and vehicles in the future.

     The second phase of construction will be the installation of line structures (single steel poles, for the most part) and stringing the conductors (three current carrying conductors and one overhead ground wire). The final construction phase will be a “clean-up and repair phase” that will focus on repairing any minor disturbance to the ground surface within the right-of-way and access roads that may have occurred when installing the structures and stringing the conductor.

     Grubb declared that the initial phase of work, preparing the right-of-way, is especially challenging, and Mountain Electric has taken great care to assemble a well-qualified team to do this work. “The contractor we have selected to do the work specializes in right-of-way preparation and has executed numerous successful projects in mountainous areas,” said Grubb.  

     Mountain Electric has also engaged an experienced project inspector to work with the contractor to ensure all permit requirements pertaining to environmental protection are fulfilled.

     The project schedule calls for right-of-way preparation to be completed by the end of August 2018, line construction to be completed by the end of March 2019 and for the line and Sugar Mountain Substation to be placed in service by the end of June 2019. “We believe this is a reasonable schedule,” added Grubb, “but as with any construction project in this area, weather– -especially harsh winter weather—can certainly cause schedules to be revised.”

     According to Mountain Electric General Manager Joe Thacker, the Sugar Mountain transmission line and substation will provide immediate and long-term benefits to electric consumers served by Mountain Electric. Said Thacker: “The future Sugar Mountain Substation and Transmission Line are necessary to maintain adequate electric power capacity and service reliability in the Sugar Mountain, Banner Elk and Grandfather Mountain service areas.

     “Additionally, the new facilities will improve electrical service capacity conditions in the Linville area due to electrical load that will be transferred from our Linville Substation to the new Sugar Mountain Substation when it becomes operational.”

     Grubb declared that “every measure has been and will continue to be taken to ensure that the Mountain Electric customers and those who visit in the areas where the new transmission line is being installed will have none, or as few as possible, problems during the installation process. Our customers and those who visit this beautiful area and use our power services are, and will continue to be, our top priority. That’s the primary reason the new line is going to become a reality—to better serve them.”

     Mountain Electric Cooperative was formed on April 1, 1941 by area farmers and residents. It owns and operates more than 2,290 miles of distribution line and over 24 miles of transmission 69 kV lines. MEC distributes electricity, generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, to more than 33,600 residential and business members.

     The Mountain Electric service area includes primarily Johnson and Carter Counties in Tennessee and much of Avery County. Additionally, small portions of Watauga, Burke and Mitchell, NC counties and Unicoi County, TN are also served by the cooperative. The MEC service area population is approximately 45,000 and covers 700-square miles. The cooperative has several dozen full-time employees based out of three offices, the headquarters in Mountain City, TN, a district office in Newland, NC and a small branch office in Roan Mountain, TN.

-Some information used in this article provided in a press release from Mountain Electric Cooperative-