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Work Continues on Mountain Electric Cooperative’s Sugar Mountain Transmission Line

By Tim Gardner

It’s much on schedule.

That describes the progress of a new transmission line that is being constructed to connect the electrical substations between Sugar Mountain and Banner Elk in Northern Avery County.

In 2018, Mountain Electric Cooperative began 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 project’s right-of-way preparation was completed by the end of August 2018. Holes were started being dug for the line in March and pole installation is currently underway. All poles are steel and are being assembled on site. Some are massive in height, reaching more than 100 feet. Almost 60 structures are part of the project–some of which include more than one pole.

According to Mountain Electric Cooperative officials, the Sugar Mountain Substation should be in service this summer or fall, which was originally its anticipated completion timeline.

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 acquired right-of-way within which it is being 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.

Mountain Electric Cooperative Director of Operations and Engineering Richard Grubb has previously said that the installation process is challenging due to the 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,” he noted. “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.”

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.

Mountain Electric Cooperative officials also previously revealed 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 after Mountain Electric received all required project permits, included 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.

The second phase of construction that is ongoing, and besides the installation of line structures (single steel poles, for the most part), includes 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 conductors.

Mountain Electric Cooperative officials declared that the initial phase of work, preparing the right-of-way, was especially challenging and the company took extra care to assemble a well-qualified team to do this work, including a contractor who specializes in right-of-way preparation and has executed numerous successful projects in mountainous areas.

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

According to Mountain Electric Cooperative 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.”

Mountain Electric Cooperative officials also have declared that while some of the lines being installed will cross roadways; they are mostly off roads. As a result, only minimal traffic problems –if any—should occur during the installation process.

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 33,900 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, including its 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 was provided in an online press release from Mountain Electric Cooperative-