On a crisp winter morning, a truck driver delivers a load of steel to an 80-acre field. It’s one of many trucks that will deliver a total of about 6,000 tons of steel to a handful of transmission material storage sites leased by LCRA Transmission Services Corporation (LCRA TSC).
These shipments of steel and other transmission materials on four to 10 trucks per day have attracted their share of attention from the communities near the storage sites. They also raised questions from residents about the materials, which started arriving in the early summer of 2009.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has assigned the construction of 2,300 miles of transmission line projects to a handful of transmission service providers. Some of the projects, known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) projects, are under construction while others await PUC selection of the route to build. Regardless of their status, all the projects have something in common – the need for similar construction materials.
In June 2009, LCRA TSC began ordering a portion of the steel that could be used for lattice towers – about 30 percent of the steel that LCRA TSC would use for all of its 400 miles of new 345-kilovolt-line projects if all those projects were built with lattice towers. Additionally, LCRA TSC ordered wire and project hardware. LCRA TSC can use these materials for any of its transmission line projects, and is storing the materials primarily in five large laydown yards near different cities in the areas where LCRA TSC will construct or rebuild transmission lines.
The yards are located near San Angelo, Junction, Llano, Coleman and Lampasas. With the exception of San Angelo, they are open-air, fenced storage yards on 25 to 80 acres of leased land. The San Angelo yard has a 52,000-square-foot warehouse adjacent to the storage yard that was located on the site. The majority of the materials in this yard are intended for projects that will add or upgrade existing facilities in the San Angelo area. LCRA TSC also uses LCRA’s Dalchau Service Center in Austin to store materials, and existing LCRA or LCRA TSC facilities in the vicinity of projects may be used to store materials prior to starting construction.
Some participants in the public discussion of CREZ have questioned why LCRA TSC pre-ordered material. Some also have asked whether the pre-purchase of materials will mean that the final tower design will be one selected to ensure the use of the pre-ordered materials. That is not the case, according to Stuart Nelson, LCRA Transmission Asset Development manager.
"We ordered some of the steel for lattice towers because of the potential risk that all the state’s CREZ transmission service providers would order the same materials to build 2,300 miles of lines simultaneously and create a bottleneck in the supply chain," Nelson said. "And about two-thirds of the existing materials in CREZ laydown yards are for projects currently under construction – those projects already approved by the Public Utility Commission or those related to additions or upgrades to existing facilities."
At this time, LCRA TSC still recommends using lattice towers in most of its projects because they cost less, Nelson said. "But of course we will build whatever the PUC tells us to build," he added. The PUC selects transmission line routes and the structure types to be used to construct the routes.
LCRA TSC is one of several transmission service providers that have been formally ordered by the PUC to construct new transmission lines required to connect Competitive Renewable Energy Zones to areas throughout the state. A CREZ is an area where wind generation facilities will be installed throughout West Texas and the Panhandle and from which transmission facilities will be built to various other areas of the state to deliver mostly renewable power to end-use consumers in the most beneficial and cost-effective manner.
"We don’t plan to order more than 30 percent of the steel until the PUC selects our route and structure types for the Gillespie-to-Newton Transmission Line Project," Nelson said. The steel that has been ordered will continue to arrive over the next few months. "If the PUC tells us to build something other than lattice towers, then we will use what we already bought on other projects or sell the materials," Nelson said.
While the most visible material has been steel structures, LCRA TSC also will order and store electric wire (also referred to as conductor) – an estimated 26 million feet of conductor based on current project estimates. That translates into 2,500 reels of conductor, or 100 reels per month for 25 months delivered at a rate of 40 truck loads per month. Each reel of wire is six to eight feet tall.
Crates of bolts also will be stored. LCRA TSC estimates it will need about 40 tractor-trailer rigs of bolts and connectors.
In addition to the delivery of materials, other transmission work has become a common sight in West Texas and the Hill Country.
Nelson said the simultaneous work on so many different projects sometimes creates public confusion in the areas where work is taking place. "Someone may see work on a transmission project and believe it’s associated with a project, when it’s actually for different one entirely. Currently, most of the activity people see is connected to projects already approved by the Public Utility Commission or related to additions or upgrades to existing facilities," Nelson said. "Anyone interested in the status of LCRA TSC projects can find that information and a lot more just by looking online." The Web site is www.lcra.org/crez.
About LCRA TSC
LCRA Transmission Services Corporation is a nonprofit corporation created by LCRA to build, own, and operate transmission lines and related facilities throughout Texas. LCRA TSC owns and leases about 4,400 miles of transmission lines and other facilities that are part of the state’s electric grid. LCRA TSC pays local and state taxes.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is a nonprofit conservation and reclamation district that provides energy, water, and community services to Texans. Created by the Texas Legislature in 1934, LCRA has no taxing authority and operates solely on utility revenues and service fees. LCRA supplies electricity to more than 1.1 million Texans through more than 40 wholesale customers. LCRA also provides many other services in the region. These services include managing floods, protecting the quality of the lower Colorado River and its tributaries, providing parks and recreational facilities, offering economic development assistance, operating water and wastewater utilities, and providing soil, energy, and water conservation programs.