Environmental resources - Great River Energy

Environmental resources

Environmental resources are among the first things we begin researching when we are looking for specific places a new power line could be built. Working with local leaders, governmental agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, and other environmental organizations is always an important part of our process.

What environmental resources are considered?

Every community is unique, but some common considerations are:

  • Water resources such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, streams and ditches
  • Proximity to rare and ecologically sensitive features, such as threatened or endangered species
  • Proximity to recreational areas such as national and state parks, bike and snowmobile trails
  • Areas of historical significance
  • Tribal areas
  • Forests or other woodlands and agricultural areas
  • Tall-growing trees on private property that would need to be removed for safety and reliability
  • Scenery and/or environmental resources that are important to local tourism
  • Proximity to airports

How can you ensure that birds will be safe around power lines?

Bird diverters are commonly used in areas near public waters where migrating waterfowl are known to reside. Bird diverters, which are large polymer coils that wrap around the power line wires, improve the visibility of the power lines, making it easier for birds to see them and avoid colliding with them.

How can birds perch on power line facilities without getting injured?

Utility structures and equipment are attractive to birds for roosting and building nests. We take measures to minimize the risk of electrocution, equipment damage, or outages due to these activities. Sometimes “perch discouragers” can be used to help keep birds from perching or roosting on utility equipment. Nest management programs include installing nest boxes or platforms in safe areas on or near utility structures, where warranted. Additionally, our personnel are educated on nest reporting, nest removal and platform construction.

Electrocution of birds is typically not associated with transmission lines greater than 138 kilovolts (kV) because there typically is enough separation between the electrical components on the utility facilities. When problems do arise, they typically can be corrected two ways:

  • Isolation:  Changing the separation distance of the wires and insulators to get the necessary clearance.
  • Insulation:  Using covers on various electrical components to prevent contact with the component that would cause the electrocution.

Is anyone else involved in the environmental review process?

Yes. We seek input from local government units and environmental resource agencies during the environmental review process. Additionally, when we are seeking a permit from the state of Minnesota to build the line, the Minnesota Department of Commerce also provides input. We are required to describe potential impacts on land and environmental resources in our application to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. They have an opportunity to add conditions to a route permit.

What if a community plans to add a man-made lake, a bike trail or other feature in the future?

Future plans for land use are always something we consider during the process of identifying potential routes for a power line. Local government units such as city councils, township boards, planning commissions and local legislators help us understand future plans for land use so we can consider those plans when we are identifying potential routes.

Isn’t it your responsibility to avoid impacting the environment?

We work hard to balance environmental considerations, engineering standards and landowner input with our responsibility to provide our members with safe, reliable electric service. Although avoiding environmental impacts altogether is not always possible, we strive to minimize environmental impacts on every project.

Is there anything you can do during construction to help minimize damage to land?

In wetland areas, we use specialized machinery for clearing vegetation and we try to construct in winter months when the ground is frozen to minimize disturbance to soils and sensitive plant and animal life. If we have to construct in these areas when the ground is not frozen, we may use mats to minimize the impacts.

Will you repair damage to my land?

We always try to minimize the impact our projects have. During construction, we clean up along the route as best we can. Following construction, we restore the land as closely as possible to its original condition. Then a final cleanup and inspection are made. Restoration is part of our right-of-way management program, which is designed to minimize the impact of transmission lines and ensure continuous operation.

What restoration work do you do following construction?

Following construction, we restore the land as closely as possible to its original condition. Sometimes, landowners may be able to plant low-growing vegetation which will not pose a hazard. Be sure to contact Great River Energy before planting shrubs or low-growing tree species in the right of way.

Would burying the line underground reduce environmental impacts?

At first glance, it may seem that burying high voltage transmission lines underground is an easy solution. However, there actually are many drawbacks to burying transmission lines underground, for both property owners and utilities:

  • They cost several times more than overhead lines due to the differences in equipment, materials and construction costs
  • Repairs are much more difficult and expensive; outages can last days rather than hours
  • The construction process is much more disruptive
  • Land use is more restricted
  • Large overhead structures are still needed in the locations where the line transitions from underground to overhead

Burying high-voltage transmission lines is extremely disruptive to property. An open trench is required throughout the construction process.

Even though special areas (such as near airports or downtown areas) may require underground lines for short distances, transmission lines will continue to be built overhead until a more reliable and economical method of underground construction and maintenance is developed. Great River Energy does not build transmission lines underground.

Do you use herbicides to control trees after construction?

Where conditions permit and with the property owner’s permission Great River Energy uses herbicides as an effective and economical method of controlling tree and brush growth. Great River Energy’s herbicide application methods follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agency regulations. Alternative vegetation management methods are used if landowners do not want herbicides applied on their property.