Lessons in Transmission: AEP Electrifies the Virginias

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

American Electric Power’s (AEP) $306 million Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry 765-kilovolt (kV) transmission project was the largest electric transmission infrastructure project under way when it was dedicated last year. Looking back over the project’s complicated and extensive process, the editors here at Utility Automation & Engineering T&D were curious as to what lessons and wisdom were revealed during the 16 years it took to complete. (See sidebar for a chronology of the project, pg. 18.)

Crews erect one of the first guyed-V towers on East River Mountain in February 2005.Click here to enlarge image

AEP steered us to Ronald L. Poff, the project manager responsible for construction of the 90-mile line. Poff joined AEP as a civil engineer in 1974 following graduation from Virginia Tech in 1973 with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. Prior to start of construction of the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry line, he was supervisor of transmission line engineering for AEP’s southern region in southern West Virginia, northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia, having been promoted to the position in January 1996. His other major projects include the Jacksons Ferry-Axton 765-kV line project and the East Danville-Roxboro transmission reinforcement project.

UAE: Give us a little background on the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry transmission project. What need prompted this infrastructure expansion?

Click here to enlarge image

RP: Appalachian Power introduced a 765 kilovolt (kV) reinforcement for southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia territory in 1990. Historically, Appalachian located its power plants near the region’s rich coal supplies in its territory, much of which is located in the Ohio River and Kanawha River valleys.The company relies on transmission lines to move the energy to load centers. In the late ’50s and ’60s, a network of 138-kV and 345-kV transmission lines served the needs. As demand grew, the company explored higher voltage lines before settling on a backbone 765-kV system in the late 1960s. One major component of the grid was a 765-kV line stretching from West Virginia, through eastern Kentucky, then up through southwestern Virginia. The last leg of this reinforcement was installed in 1973.

Growing customer demands for electricity had increased the peak electric demand to more than double the 1973 load when Appalachian introduced the 765-kV reinforcement for the Virginias. Peak demands had grown to a point where a loss on the 765-kV backbone line would overload the lower-voltage lines in the grid, and during peak demands it could create unacceptable reliability risks.

UAE: When the project was completed, your CEO said it struck “a balance between the environment and the nation’s growing need for electricity.” How did environmental concerns change this project?

AEP’s Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project used the first six-bundle configuration in North America. AEP developed the configuration to help resolve audible noise issues that it had experienced in early generations of 765-kV lines in higher elevations. The audible noise level of the new project is approximately half that of earlier lines.Click here to enlarge image

RP: Appalachian’s first route for the 765-kV reinforcement connected the Wyoming Station, in Wyoming County, W.Va., with the Cloverdale Station, near Roanoke, Va. As the project evolved in the permitting phase, environmental, historic and cultural issues surfaced. The company’s ultimate southern terminus at Jacksons Ferry Station, some 100 miles to the southwest of Roanoke is just one example of how the project changed to meet the needs of the community, both electrically and aesthetically. Looking at a map of the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry route today, it’s easy to notice the bends, dog-legs and turns. It is a sharp contrast to the straight transmission lines of yesteryear. Each and every bend represents an environmental, cultural or historic issue avoided. (Editor’s note: See the map for a visual of the changes Ron describes here.)

UAE: This 90-mile line was the first to use a six-bundle conductor configuration in North America. How’s that working out so far? The advantages? Any disadvantages?

RP: The six-conductor configuration is an answer to a problem. (Editor’s note: See photo of the configuration, at left.) Audible noise from earlier generations of 765-kV lines proved problematic in some of the higher elevations of the Appalachian region, especially during a mist or light snow. In the mid-1990s, AEP engineers explored different bundle configurations and ultimately constructed a mile-long test span on the Jacksons Ferry-Axton 765-kV line. The results exceeded expectations. The new configuration cut the audible noise from the project to more than half that of earlier generations of 765-kV construction. The new bundle configuration was one of the best selling points for the new project, and more than a year after the project has been energized, it continues to perform exceptionally. On a recent interaction with a neighbor to the project, one property owner said it was so quiet compared to other lines, he questioned if it was actually carrying any load.

UAE: What other new technology does this project utilize?

Ron Chambers, AEP transmission line construction representative, has built transmission lines for AEP for 37 years.Click here to enlarge image

RP: Virtually every component on the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project was custom designed. The six-bundle conductor presented the company with new challenges in tower design and construction, largely due to new geometry of the configuration and the additional weight it created. Although there were solid designs to work from, the company re-engineered and designed a new tower series, including 14 tower types for Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry. The company also used de-glaring techniques on both tower steel and conductor.

UAE: What hurdles and issues did you have to overcome to complete this project?

RP: Appalachian’s 765-kV reinforcement project met challenges at nearly every turn. Because the project involved constructing facilities in both West Virginia and Virginia, two state certificates were needed. In addition, the project crossed land administered by the federal government, the Jefferson National Forest, the Appalachian Trail (administered by the U.S. Park Service) and property administered by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Between 1990 and 2003, the project was met with regulatory delays before the final permission to construct the line was granted.

With approvals in hand, construction hurdles surfaced. Construction was well under way when, as part of the its mitigation plan for constructing the project in the vicinity of the endangered Indiana bat, environmental consultants captured an endangered bat in a mist net. Per the plan, the company shut down construction in the area and moved to a different part of the project until the bats returned to their caves.

The Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project traverses some of the most severe terrain in the Appalachian Mountain Range, where sharp, steep cliffs and 3,000-foot elevations are the norm. Severe terrain met severe weather during the winter of 2004-2005, and construction crews dealt with the aftermath of mud and cold. Winter didn’t release its grip on the highest elevations that year in the project area until April.

UAE: What major lessons did you learn from the project?

A PAR Electric employee installs a spacer dampener on the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project.Click here to enlarge image

RP: AEP has 80 to 90 years experience in building high-voltage transmission lines in some very inhospitable mountainous terrain. With that experience, we decided to act as general contractor, so to speak, on the project. The project broke down into three operations with distinct skills and equipment, which also influenced our approach–right of way and tower site clearing; road construction, erosion control and reclamation; and tower and line construction. We decided to award three separate contracts to contractors for each piece of this project. Ultimately, relieving our construction contractors of the responsibility of environmental and reclamation proved beneficial. Each of the three operations was able to focus entirely on its area of responsibility.

Additionally, the project was built on the concept that it would be constructed in the least disturbing manner possible. There are three tiers to that approach: find the best route, refine the route with landowner input and use construction techniques–like darkened steel, de-glared conductor and six bundle configurations–that reduce the disturbance the line causes. Ultimately the quality and integrity of the work spoke for itself in that the approvals for the project weren’t challenged.

UAE: How did the public react to the project? Did they have a part in the process?

AEP was able to minimize the disturbance the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project caused for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia. The company located the crossing near where the trail crosses an interstate.Click here to enlarge image

RP: In its 13-year permitting process, potential line routes were considered in most all of the counties between Wyoming Station, Cloverdale Station and Jacksons Ferry Station. Local groups were formed to represent their community interests, and many became participants in the case. Ultimately, much of the input these groups provided proved beneficial to both AEP and its regulators in determining the best location for the project. Although Appalachian had an active communications and education program in place, the most constructive exchanges of information happened at a one-on-one level.

UAE: Why did you go to Virginia Tech and West Virginia University for help with route planning? How did that work out?

RP: Appalachian turned routing responsibility over to a team of university experts with only one condition: Identify the least impacting route for the project. The company relied on experts in biology, mapping, cultural resources and landscape architecture from Virginia Tech and West Virginia University. The experts brought a wealth of information, resources and emerging technologies to the table. In the end, the project was constructed largely upon routes the team identified.

UAE: Speaking of the route, the Virginia SCC switched your route from an end point in Cloverdale to an end point in Jacksons Ferry.

Crews receive a tower from the Chinook helicopter and position it in an area of the Jefferson National Forest designated as roadless.Click here to enlarge image

RP: There were electrical benefits to the Cloverdale terminus, but ultimately the Jacksons Ferry terminus won out. In the end, Jacksons Ferry achieved the best balance between electrical performance and environmental and cultural resources.

UAE: What is your most memorable moment involving the project?

A Chinook helicopter, operated by Columbia Helicopters, Inc., transports a guyed-V structure from a staging yard to its destination in Wyoming County, W.Va. The Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project involved construction of 333 towers; 111 were self-supporting and 222 guyed-V. The helicopter was rated to carry up to 24,000 pounds. The heaviest lifts on the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project were 22,000.Click here to enlarge image

RP: After 16 years of negotiating, researching, planning, testifying, and construction in a small light-green control room in Wythe County, Va., with a handful of coworkers, on June 20, 2006, Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry was energized. It instantly unburdened an overloaded grid and created a dependable supply of electricity for hundreds of thousands of customers. Without a doubt, that is the highlight.

Chronology of a Transmission Project: AEP’s Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry Line

March 1990:

AEP announces the 765-kV transmission line project.


Various applications and certifications filed and refiled.

May 1996:

The U.S. Park Service recommends denial of proposed power line crossing.

August 1996:

DOE files a report citing threats to reliability in the mid-Atlantic area due to delays in approval of this AEP transmission line. They request the reliability councils study the problem.

March 1997:

The reliability councils’ report, Reliability Impact of the Delayed Completion of the Wyoming-Cloverdale 765-kV line, concludes “The addition of the Wyoming-Cloverdale 765 kV line is an effective alternative for serving AEP’s West Virginia and Virginia service areas as well as mitigating the risk of potential widespread power interruptions.”


West Virginia PSC and Virgina SCC discuss and develop line amendments with AEP.

May 31, 2001:

Virginia SCC issues final order approving construction.

March 13, 2002:

West Virginia PSC approves the project’s construction from Wyoming Station in West Virginia to Jacksons Ferry Station in Virginia.

August 2004:

The first tower is erected.

October 2005:

The last of 333 towers is erected on the 90-mile project. The project switches focuses to wire stringing and land reclamation.

June 20, 2006:

The Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry project is energized, 16 years after the initial AEP announcement.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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