The measurement of progress is at times an inexact science akin to the eye of the beholder. Not every advancement of science or latest technology equates to progress.
I’ve thought about that often this summer as my work commute takes me past the construction zone of the northern portion of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line project. The 186-mile powerline runs from Holmen to near Madison and will cost an estimated $580 million. It is a joint venture of American Transmission Co. and utilities including Xcel Energy and La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative
The project was years in the making and there were many in support and against. The application approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in 2015 said that the project will improve electric reliability, provide lower-cost power and bring more wind power to customers. It will become part of a transmission grid and connect with the CapX2020 high-voltage line from Minnesota.
Opponents questioned the cost-benefit analysis based on declining electrical demand and felt the line was not necessary. Others objected for environmental reasons. But whether we like it or not, the final stages of the construction are taking place and the line is expected to be energized later this year.
Building a powerline across rivers, streams, hills and valleys is no minor feat. Detailed environmental plans are developed for every foot of the project. Staging areas are established, brush and trees are cleared within the right-of-way and a fleet of specialized equipment like cranes, drilling rigs, concrete trucks and even a special helicopter to string the lines is brought in.
All of this takes place with the goal of minimizing the environmental impact. Much of the work is done using a base of timbers called a construction mat. It’s a modern twist on the ancient concept of corduroy roads, where logs were laid across wet areas to allow for transportation.
The construction mat on a section near Ettrick where it crossed Beaver Creek extended as far as the eye could see. The mats help minimize soil compaction, rutting and provide a safe base for the heavy equipment. Once the construction is complete, the timbers are removed.
There’s nothing natural about looming steel towers, but these are made of earth-toned weathering steel that forms a protective rust-coating. The patina and the 345-kilovolt lines will soon become part of the landscape.
A new house plant?
My wife Sherry is the green thumb of the household, planting and maintaining numerous flower beds. My role is to help weed and mulch and point to pretty flowers and ask, “What’s that?”
While we like plants inside the house as well, we recently had an unwanted incursion by an invasive species. Outside our front door a vine had grown from under the porch floor inside of the trim. All you could see were a few green leaves sticking out from under the trim.
Overnight the plant found a crack along the door frame and pushed under the inside door trim into the house. There it dangled, looking for additional growing space.
The intruder was removed. Although it wasn’t from the same family, perhaps the vine was seeking revenge for my outing of the wild cucumber in a recent column. You have to give it credit for persistence.
Apple season begins
As we turn the calendar to September, the apple harvest has begun. Some area orchards have opened with the early season varieties.
One of our wild apple trees is always early-bearing and a recent sample suggests the fruit is ready for picking. The rejects will be a special treat for the cows.
I’d like to say that it was all fun, but where did the summer go?