Search For:

Share This

Reliable and sustainable

WHEN AN AGING POWER LINE in a unique eastern Kentucky old-growth forest had to be rebuilt to maintain reliable electric service to nearby communities, electric cooperatives worked closely with state officials to complete the work while minimizing environmental impacts. 

Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve is one of Kentucky’s last remaining old-growth forests. Recognizing its unique circumstances, East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) used helicopters to deliver equipment, and crews did much of the work with hand tools, minimizing impacts on wildlife in the preserve. 

“If an ice storm or tornado damaged the transmission line—especially if poles were knocked down—it is likely EKPC would have had no choice but to quickly construct a road through the nature preserve to quickly make repairs and restore power,” says Denver York, EKPC’s senior vice president of power delivery and system operations. “The newly rebuilt line is much stronger and capable of withstanding much harsher weather.” 

The high-voltage transmission line was first built by EKPC in the early 1970s across rugged, mountainous terrain to deliver electricity to about 1,500 homes in the Harlan County communities of Bledsoe and Pine Mountain, which are served by Cumberland Valley Electric Cooperative. After nearly five decades, the wooden poles and aging wires needed to be replaced before severe weather knocked out power for days or even weeks. 

“There is very limited capacity to feed electricity to those communities any other way,” says Ted Hampton, president and CEO of Cumberland Valley Electric Cooperative. “We’ve worked closely with EKPC to ensure we keep that power line in service and the lights on for our members.” 

Starting in the 1990s, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission purchased land in the area, including tracts where more than a mile of the power line is located, to establish the Blanton Forest Nature Preserve. Today, the preserve contains Kentucky’s largest known old-growth forest. 

In recent years, representatives from EKPC and officials from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust and Camp Blanton worked together to develop a plan for EKPC to rebuild the critical transmission line, ensuring reliable electric service while also protecting one of Kentucky’s few remaining old-growth forests. 

Normally, a project like this would require cutting trees to build a rough road for heavy equipment to access the line route and replace poles and wires. For this project, EKPC used a helicopter to airlift workers and equipment from a nearby airport to the nature preserve’s mountainous locations. Over four weeks this past fall, crews used lighter equipment and did some of the work by hand to minimize damage. Poles were delivered and lowered into place by helicopter. 

Ten aging wooden-pole structures were replaced with much sturdier steel structures. Several of the wooden poles had been set directly into rock. Rather than bringing in heavy equipment to drill new holes, EKPC used a hydraulic jack to lift out the old ones, and then set new steel poles in the same holes. 

“We were careful not to bring invasive species into the nature preserve along with our workers and equipment,” says Allan Cheuvront, EKPC’s line maintenance supervisor, who oversaw the work. “It was a challenging project.” 

A nearby creek is home to a threatened species of fish, raising concerns about the impact of crossing this tributary with equipment. EKPC agreed to construct a timber bridge over it. “They liked the bridge so much, they asked us to leave it,” Cheuvront says. 

“This innovative solution to bring much needed power through an environmentally sensitive area is a tribute to all involved who worked together to make this possible,” Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman says. 

“It took a great deal of planning and extraordinary measures to protect the nature preserve, but the work we completed this fall greatly improves the reliability of electric service for cooperative members,” says Don Mosier, EKPC’s chief operating officer and executive vice president. “Working with Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and other stakeholders, we were able to produce a win for everybody.” 

Don't Leave! Sign up for Kentucky Living updates ...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.