North Lake Tahoe power line replacement nears completion
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KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Liberty Utilities’ work to upgrade the power line along Highway 267 is nearing completion and is expected to be finished by Oct. 15.
Work on the power line began last year after the company, which acquired the service territory in 2011, spent nearly 4 years trying to get the project approved.
“It’s going to dramatically improve reliability in the north Tahoe area,” said Liberty Utilities’ Vice President of Operations Travis Johnson.
He said the other important reason for the work was fire safety.
The project involves replacement of around 610 wooden poles with 570 dark steel poles on the 650 power line running from Kings Beach to Northstar, according to Liberty Utilities’ website.
The new poles are designed to last longer and reduce fire danger.
“If there was a fire in the area, getting power restored would be faster because obviously steel won’t burn,” said Johnson.
Fire is major concern for the company, Johnson said. The issue of tree mortality, made worse by the bark beetle, hasn’t helped.
“Trees falling into lines is what keeps us up at night,” he said.
Concerns about the number of trees removed were common during the initial stages of the project, but when the company took over the service area in 2011 they identified a need to increase vegetation management practices to reduce outages and fire danger.
“With the tree mortality issues, once a storm comes and the wind starts to blow, it’s hard to identify what tree is going to go next,” said Johnson.
The line improvements are expected to make service more reliable because of the vegetation clearing and stronger poles, but also because the line has been updated from 60kV to 120kV.
“A utility company is required by the CPUC (California Public Utility Commission) to meet demand and prepare for future demand,” said Liberty Utilities spokesperson Kathy Carter.
She said that in 2012, year after Liberty Utilities purchased the service area, there was a lot of snowfall. Visitation increased, and so did electricity demands.
“We were very close to asking customers to do voluntary brown outs,” said Carter, who added that the company nearly exceeded its capacity that year.
“We have not broken that peak that was set in winter 2012, but we know it is coming,” she said.
According to the company’s website, the 650 power line was one of the oldest in California.
“The number one reason for this project has been to replace an aging infrastructure that just could not meet the needs of our customers,” said Carter.
But replacing an antique power line in the Tahoe Basin is no easy task. After years of trying to acquire the necessary permits, the company also had to adhere to strict environmental regulations.
“We had to do some tree removal by helicopter because it was in a sensitive area where they didn’t want us slides logs down the mountain,” Carter said.
The tree-removal-by-helicopter process took construction crews about a week to complete this summer.
Another challenge crews have had to plan for were migrating bird populations. Carter said that per the permitting requirements, wildlife experts were required to evaluate sites before any work could be done to make sure no nesting birds would be disturbed.
“They’re continuing to monitor the area for migrating birds,” Carter said “They have to leap-frog areas if there are active nests.”
Crews began replacing the line and poles in 2015, first focusing on the Martis Valley to the Northstar Substation. This season, they’ve wrapping up work on the section from the Northstar Substation to Kings Beach.
“As long as the weather holds up, we’re on track to be done by October 15, the deadline, if not sooner,” said Carter.