Overcoming challenges such as relentless sub-zero temperatures, ruthless 30-to-40-mph winds, and a complex river crossing, MYR Group subsidiary L.E. Myers has successfully completed its portions of two major projects for CapX2020, an ambitious $2 billion joint initiative by 11 utilities to upgrade and expand the electric transmission grid in Minnesota and the surrounding region.
In early 2012, L.E. Myers crews launched construction on five segments within the planned 800 miles of CapX2020, the largest development of new transmission in the upper Midwest in more than 40 years.
L.E. Myers’ portion of the work included structure erection and line stringing on the 74-mile, Alexandria to St. Cloud segment of Xcel Energy’s Fargo – St. Cloud 345kV project, which runs from Monticello, MN to Fargo, ND, and three segments totaling nearly 129 miles of Great River Energy’s Brookings County-Hampton 345kV project, which runs from Brookings, SD, to Hampton, MN, just southeast of the Twin Cities. Additionally, L.E. Myers erected 74 of the 105 steel monopole structures between the Chub Lake and Hampton substations for the Brookings County-Hampton project.
L.E. Myers crews started unloading material in January 2012, for the Alexandria to St. Cloud segment, which was initially intended to run mostly along Interstate 94. However, once construction got under way in January, 2013, the Minnesota Public Service Commission ordered a reroute at the St. Cloud end, which lengthened the segment by 14 miles.
Working on a tight schedule while enduring bitterly cold, windy and icy conditions, L.E. Myers crews strung 74 miles of single-circuit 345kV line (double circuit at the Interstate crossings), spanning 423 steel-pole structures from 125’ to 180’ tall. As the frigid Minnesota gusts surrendered to a balmy Midwestern breeze, they finished the job in May 2014, ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, another group of L.E. Myers crews were tackling tough obstacles on the CapX2020 Brookings County-Hampton 345kV project, particularly on the segment between the Cedar Mountain and Helena substations.
“The Minnesota River crossing at Belle Plaine, MN, had to be completed on a tight schedule while the river was frozen, and there was rough terrain going in and out of the river bottom,” said L.E. Myers Vice President, Larry Schweitzer. “Also, the pole setting and the foundation installation had to be coordinated due to the unique design of the foundations.”
According to Construction Manager Wes Nunnery, “the toughest part of the job was staying on schedule because in that part of the country, wind is the biggest enemy.”
“With 35 to 40 mph winds, you can’t put people 160 or 170 feet in the air; you have to shut down,” he explained. “At least one day would be lost every week.”
Besides the heavy wind, there was “quite a bit of snow,” Nunnery added, and arctic temperatures that stubbornly refused to inch upward.
“We had a two-week stretch when I don’t think we got above 10 below,” he recalled. “The crews can’t work if it’s 10 below and colder, and when you add a 30-mph wind, performing the work is next to impossible.”
Despite these grueling conditions, by March 2014, the rugged crews of L.E. Myers had safely completed 129 miles of 345kV line and set 873 steel monopole structures from Hampton to Franklin, MN, about 50 miles east of the South Dakota state line.
“We finished our sections without a recordable incident during the last year of the project,” said Nunnery. “Our safety performance was excellent.”
During the summer of 2014, the L.E. Myers team went back to the Fargo-St. Cloud line to install 1,666 vertical interphase spacers in order to prevent “galloping,” a potentially damaging wave-like motion caused by icy, windy conditions. During the fall of 2014, the crews also installed 600 interphase spacers on the Brookings-Hampton line.
Once completed in 2015, the 240-mile Fargo-St. Cloud-Monticello line will facilitate a diverse generation mix, including vast wind energy resources in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota and meet the local and regional electric reliability needs in Fargo, Alexandria, St. Cloud and throughout the southern Red River Valley.
The Brookings County-Hampton line, which is also expected to be completed next year, will help meet growing energy demand in southern and western Minnesota, as well as the burgeoning metropolitan areas south of the Twin Cities. The 247-mile line will also provide access to wind generation in southwestern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota, helping Minnesotans meet their state’s requirement to generate 25 percent of energy from renewable sources.
Although there were challenges, said Schweitzer, “Xcel Energy and Great River Energy, the project development leads, were very helpful in overcoming many of them. Their teams were extremely professional and knowledgeable.”
MYR Group Vice President John Fluss noted that MYR Group has “enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Xcel Energy and its legacy companies.”
“MYR Group is proud to contribute to Xcel Energy’s success in their CapX2020 undertaking,” Fluss said. “It has been a significant accomplishment for MYR Group to have also constructed a transmission line of this magnitude for Great River Energy.”