National Grid’s $250 million Reliability Project to strengthen Rhode Island’s electric system is ahead of schedule with half of the construction already finished. During the anticipated three-year construction period, nearly 750 steel transmission towers and the installation of more than 300 miles of power lines are expected to be installed. The transmission towers vary in size, roughly 150 feet tall, and are used to support overhead electrical wires.
The Rhode Island Reliability Project began in 2010 and is aimed to make Rhode Island and southern New England a more reliable power source throughout the region. This transmission system will increase the option for locating power plants and can allow broader access to renewable energy sources. The removal of 125 older towers and poles and new equipment installation at two substations in North Smithfield and Warwick are also included under the Reliability Project.
A press conference in Smithfield was held Tuesday, where, according to President of Rhode Island National Grid Timothy Horan, the project boosts Rhode Island’s economy by providing more than 250 people with jobs.“In the past 20 years, electricity demand has doubled,” Horan said. “It is critically important to know this project is benefiting Rhode Island and southern New England.”
The project includes the reconstruction of two 115-kilovolt transmission lines and the addition of a new 345-kilovolt transmission line. The project covers a 21-mile corridor running through North Smithfield, Smithfield, Johnston, Cranston, West Warwick and Warwick. Much of the pole construction is complete in the northern portion of the project, including North Smithfield and Smithfield. Works in the other four communities are in progress.
The power comes from multiple generation sources throughout the region. A 2010 disclosure statement from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission states that roughly 48 percent of power is sourced through fossil fuel powered plants. Nuclear power plants supply roughly 31 percent and less than 5 percent is supplied from hydropower. This power is fed into the transmission system, which carries it to the distribution systems operated by companies like National Grid and others throughout southern New England.
The power lines are purposed to handle the increasing demand for electricity, especially during peak usage periods. For example, during the hottest summer days, customers are using large amounts of electricity through air conditioning. The project is designed to make sure customers have an adequate supply of electricity so that they won’t notice any changes in the delivery of it.
Construction crews work alongside live wires and towers that are servicing electricity throughout the installation process. According to Joseph May, the Project Manager of NEA (New England Energy Alliance) Construction, many safety precautions are being made to ensure the protection of the workers.
“All of the existing systems needed to be maintained during the installation of the new lines, so this is a very daunting task,” May said. “We tapped in the talented personnel of the state with more than 20 percent living in Rhode Island.”
Keeping the landscape in its original state is kept a main priority to all parties involved. NEA wants to be as invisible as possible, causing as little disruptions to the land. To make sure the community is aware of the activity, surrounding residents are notified years in advance of the construction that will be underway.
NEA has partnered with different engineering and construction companies who have the contract to complete this massive project. This is the largest undertaking by NEA, according to May, but they plan to finish before the deadline of spring 2013.