Minnkota’s new transmission substation will both fortify power reliability and support regional load growth.
Some people look to the horizon to seek out sunsets, changing fall foliage or perhaps a vast stretch of open water. Minnkota engineer Jay Bushy was wired differently. He sees horizonal beauty in an amalgamation of steel, insulators and switches called Walle substation.
“I heard it was up, and I wanted to go look,” remembered Bushy, the sitework/civil engineer for Minnkota’s newest transmission substation just south of Grand Forks, N.D. “And as soon as I got through the curve on Highway 81, it just stuck out. It was very pronounced. That thing is up about 50-plus feet in the air, so you can see it for quite aways,” he added with pride.
Walle substation (named for the township in which it stands) is one of Minnkota’s largest transmission substation builds to date. When fully energized in the spring of 2024, it will receive 230-kilovolt (kV) power from Minnkota’s transmission lines, step it down through a transformer and send it on its way as 69-kV electricity for distribution substations in the area.
The new infrastructure is a product of a multiyear Minnkota system study. The study determined that a transmission substation near southern Grand Forks would be critical to keep electric reliability high for a quickly developing region.
“This substation will allow for additional load growth. And reliability is a big factor. The investment is worth it because this will help out in the future,” said Ryan Brorby, Minnkota substation engineering manager. “This will prevent transmission congestion, and we won’t find ourselves in a power bind.”
Work to prepare for Walle started back in 2022, when Bushy and substation engineer Kara Laframboise began initial designs for the site and equipment. In February of 2023, Minnkota’s line crew began the task of moving existing power poles on the 230-kV line to make room for the substation. In May, the sitework of grading and preparing the substation pad began. Soon, the construction work shifted to a set of local contractors who would complete the bulk of the build under Minnkota’s supervision.
Things were rolling smoothly – but supply chain challenges threw some hurdles into the path of completion.
“If we hadn’t had delays with the transformer, we would have been able to fully energize everything this year,” Laframboise said, explaining that transformers are in high demand and short supply nationwide, ballooning lead times for the essential equipment. On top of the wait, Minnkota faced the high costs that accompany supply-and-demand economics.
“You can look at it this way,” Laframboise explained. “The transformer that we purchased for the Walle substation is the same size transformer that we purchased for the Lake Park substation back in 2017. It has doubled in cost from what it was back then.”
In addition to the transformer, getting steel to the substation site was also tricky. Product lead times continued to expand, pushing back delivery dates by weeks. Even for Minnkota’s line crew, the wait for materials necessitated flexibility and patience.
“There are so many people at Minnkota that touch this,” Brorby said. “Even though we did it through a contractor, our crews were still heavily involved.”
For a project this large, many teams within Minnkota were pulled into planning and execution. The right-of-way department worked with landowners in the area of the substation, technical maintenance technicians and electricians fine-tuned panels and connections within the control building, the procurement team focused on getting the materials needed – the list of internal champions was endless.
Many external partners also came together to help support Walle substation. Nodak Electric Cooperative, one of Minnkota’s member-owner cooperatives, was heavily involved in the project, which was happening right in the community they serve.
“They gave us a new service out at the new substation in time for our contractors,” Laframboise said. “They had to bury underground line across one area, under a road, to another area to get to us. They were really great to work with, and they did it really quickly.”
The City of Grand Forks also became a strong partner for Walle substation, knowing that a new transmission substation would support their goals for economic development. City inspectors visiting the site commented on the remarkable quality of the site work organized by Bushy and his team. With so many developments happening around the city this year, they were pleased to have an “easy” item to check off the list.
It turns out that beauty can take many forms: an easy inspection, power reliability, locally grown partnerships or even a large transmission substation named Walle.
“Everyone says, ‘A substation is getting built,’ and they get a little jumpy about that, thinking it’s going to be this ugly-looking thing,” Brorby said. “What I’ve heard around the community is that everyone was impressed and happy with how the process went.”
MAIN IMAGE: Minnkota lineworker Weston Meyer looks over Walle substation as he places transmission insulators.