Wasatch Planning Commission Continues Decision On Energy Companies' Transmission Line Project

Jun 12, 2019

Credit Wasatch County

Wasatch County Planning Commission spent four hours at their June 4th meeting discussing a request from Heber Light and Power and Rocky Mountain Power for a conditional use permit to rebuild and extend a transmission line and build a 10-acre substation. In the end the item was continued to the commissions July 11th meeting to allow more discussion and information regarding the substation.

Around 50 people attended the commission meeting, most in the audience were citizens opposed to the plans.

The proposed project will connect the existing transmission line located on Old Highway 40 about two miles South of the Jordanelle Dam, to the Midway Substation located west of the Midway City Cemetery. Pole heights for transmission lines could vary between 65 to 95 feet in some areas, with poles as tall as 110 feet possible for crossings and dead-end poles.

The line will run from the Jordanelle along 40 before heading west of town just north of the dog park before heading south on Southfield road. The proposed alignment for the transmission lines may or may not end up following the final approved Heber Parkway alignment. The most likely scenario being that it will not follow the alignment for the Heber Parkway road.

The transmission lines will continue down Southfield road to 650 South. At 1465 West and 650 South is a proposal for a new 10-acre substation. The line will continue on 650 South connecting to the Midway Substation.

Heber Light and Power General Manager Jason Norlen recognized the frustration expressed by citizens due to the scale and scope of the project. Norlen said that the project is in response to the phenomenal growth in the Heber Valley.

“This is a generational type project,” Norlen explained. ‘My hope is that we can contain growth enough that we don't have to do another project like this until I'm dead and gone, like the general manager before me is dead and gone that did the last big generational type thing.”

The two energy companies say they can try and aim for either taller and fewer transmission poles with greater distance in between each pole, or alternatively, shorter poles with less distance in between. Rocky Mountain Power Transmission Engineer Nicole Kendall says the company will try and accommodate whatever the commission requests, but they do have a slight preference.

“Less poles, less maintenance, so that's a little cheaper in the long run,” Kendall continued. “Shorter poles you'll have more of them, more maintenance over time. In terms of engineering it's all the same.”

Some of the planning commissioners also spoke about how more distance between poles would be less damaging to viewsheds, the power companies are also burying the distribution and communication lines underground which will lower the overall height of the transmission poles. Burying the entirety of the powerlines would be considerably more expensive and is not being seriously considered. More about that in future KPCW reports.

David George is a landowner who would be a neighbor to the new substation on 650 South. He said the size of the substation will make mitigation efforts difficult.

“Foliage and maybe even they need to bury the lines in this area,” George said. “So that it's not a compounded impact. It's bad enough having a substation and a plethora of high-powered lines through there. To me is a real problem.”

A citizen organization known as Valley-wide Opposition to Large Transmission lines, or VOLT, also expressed their continued displeasure with the project. Here’s VOLT board member Earl Norris.

“We have disagreed with it’s vision, approval process, financial conclusions and routing which at times seems haphazardous and incomplete,” Norris read. “Further we are concerned with the real motive that entices Rocky Mountain Power to pay more than 80% of this project to run a regional transmission line through the middle of the valley. Make no mistake about it, this is a regional transmission line. It’s going to take power from Wyoming to Utah Valley. We will get power. We will have another source of power from a different direction, but right now most of the power will go through this valley and we're going to have to pay for it.

Commission member Mark Hendricks spent a large portion of the meeting challenging the energy companies. At the end of the meeting Hendricks let residents know that the continuance gives one last opportunity to bring a viable alternative forward.

“Somebody’s always going to say there's a better way, not near my house,” Hendricks continued. “I'm skeptical that an engineer is going to find a better route. I'd like to think you’ve worked in good faith; this is the route that makes sense, but with a continuance if somebody gets a credible engineered alternative route let's know about it. If they're given that chance, the one last chance then we can shut it down and say you had every chance to do it. I prefer to see a continuance and a little more refinement and some more info on the substation.”

Heber Light and Power and Rocky Mountain Power will come before the commission with more information on the proposed substation at the July 11th Wasatch County Planning Commission meeting.