Chelan PUD will spend $30 million on upgrades to its Upper Valley transmission lines. 

The PUD held public feedback sessions in 2019 in Leavenworth on four options before commissioners chose the one recommended by staff members. 

PUD spokesperson Rachel Hansen says it's a "high risk" line that covers a 16-mile stretch from Peshastin to Coles Corner.

"A lot of this transmission line runs through forest service land, from Sunitsch Canyon along Chumstick Highway to Winton," said Hansen. "It runs through some pretty heavy timber through there in hard to access places. So, that's what makes this line high risk." 

The transmission line serves 4,000 Chelan PUD customers in the Lake Wenatchee, Plain and upper Chumstick Highway areas. 

Wood transmission poles will be replaced by steel poles through the heavily wooded remote section of the line between Chumstick Highway and Coles Corner.  

Hansen says using steel instead of wood will provide more protection against wild fires. 

"With steel poles, fire resistant steel poles, if a fire were to burn through part of that line, we'd at least have the poles standing, which would significantly reduce the amount of time to get electricity back to these folks," Hansen said. 

Replacing the current wood poles after a fire could take weeks or months,” according to Hansen. 

The upper valley lines were downed by falling trees twice during a heavy snow storm last year that brought four to six feet of snow to the area in January. Hansen said it took workers several days to get power back because of avalanche danger, and having to use snow mobiles to access the area. 

The new poles will be a tan color, which is intended to look similar to the wood structures already in place. 

Another two-mile section over Natapoc Ridge that connects Plain with Lake Wenatchee is also being upgraded with steel poles.  

The thick copper wire that delivers the electricity will be replaced on the remaining portion of the line between Anderson Canyon in Peshastin to Sunitsch Canyon by Chumstick Highway. 

The transmission lines dates back to the 1920's, with the copper wire having never been replaced. The PUD obtained ownership of the lines from Puget Power in the 1940's. 

The project also includes making some switching improvements to the Coles Corner substation in order to better isolate outages. 

The $30 million project was a less expensive option than rerouting the line along the Chumstick Highway or rebuilding the entire length of the 16-mile line with steel poles. 

Those two options would have cost $40-$60 million. 

Responses from the public was negative to both ideas. Residents along the Chumstick Highway objected to the line because of concerns it would cause a drop in home values and be an eyesore. 

Residents also raised concerns about the price tag of the two options, given that most power outages don't occur along the transmission lines, but instead on the neighborhood level power poles. 

A fourth option on the table would be to do nothing and continue an existing maintenance regiment. 

With approval of the $30 million option, the design and permitting processes will take place in 2023 and 2024.  

Chelan PUD will also explore federal grant funding opportunities for construction of the project between 2024 and 2027. 

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