Final court confirmation for Salzburg Line

21.10.2020

From the first submission of the project to the Salzburg state government in September 2012 until the approval of the construction of the second section of the Salzburg Line (“Salzburgleitung”) by the court of last instance, the beautiful Austrian state of Salzburg has certainly seen many sunsets. The Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG is now all the more content with the definite legal groundwork for Austria’s most important infrastructure project. Although the legally valid building permit for the Salzburg Line had already been granted by the Austrian Federal Administrative Court in March 2019, there were still final legal details in connection with the project, which the Supreme Administrative Court has now clarified on 20 October 2020, thus confirming the permit.

The new 380kV overhead line will replace the old 220kV line from the 1960s and will be capable of transporting seven times more electricity than the current line. To improve supply security in the city of Salzburg, the first 46-kilometre section of the Salzburg Line from the St. Peter grid node near the German border to the newly constructed Salzburg substation near Elixhausen was already commissioned in January 2011. The second section of the Salzburg Line, from Elixhausen to the Tauern grid node near Kaprun, will now close the western gap in the Austrian “380kV Ring”. This ring-shaped extra-high voltage grid is the backbone of the national electricity supply and crucial for the integration and transmission of renewable energies.

The total length of the new line, which has 449 pylons, is 128 kilometres. However, as old lines will be dismantled when the Salzburg Line is completed and some of them will run jointly on the new line, there will be 229 fewer masts in Salzburg than before. Commissioning of the Salzburg Line is planned for the year 2025, dismantling will be completed by 2026. “With €890m to be invested, the Salzburg Line is by far the most important investment project in the Austrian electricity infrastructure. Of the approx. €350m that APG is investing in the expansion of the electricity grids this year, the Salzburg Line alone has a share of €125m for the domestic economy,” comments Gerhard Christiner, CTO of the Austrian TSCNET shareholder, who also praised the day of the court ruling as a “good day for the energy transition and for the secure supply of electricity in Salzburg and Austria”.

The Austrian Supreme Administrative Court has definitively confirmed the construction permit for the 380kV Salzburg Line of APG (picture: Martin Lugger / APG)

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Construction start of Slovenian-Hungarian interconnector

16.10.2020

A glance at the guest list of the official ceremony for the start of construction of the Cirkovce-Pince overhead line reveals that a major project has been launched here. The Slovenian transmission system operator (TSO) ELES had the honour to welcome both the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban to the opening event for the new construction. And indeed, the project is of historic proportions, as the 400kV AC line, a good 80 kilometres long, will be the first interconnector between the Slovenian and Hungarian transmission systems.

The double circuit line with 264 pylons will increase the operational reliability of the Slovenian transmission system and import transmission capacity, facilitate access to energy sources from the North and East, and allow for the integration of larger amounts of renewable energy from the whole region into the grid. The line runs from the Cirkovce substation in the northeastern Slovenian region of Lower Styria to the border settlement of Pince, which is not only on the Hungarian border, but also in the triangle of Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary. Therefore, in addition to the substation of the Hungarian TSO MAVIR in Hévíz in Zala County, the substation of the Croatian TSO HOPS in Žerjavinec near Zagreb can also be connected to the new line, truly a European Project of Common Interest (PCI). The power line will thus even interconnect three countries. The presence of Gordan Grlić-Radman, Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, confirmed the trinational dimension of the Cirkovce-Pince line.

At the ceremony with symbolic unveiling of the construction panel, Aleksander Mervar, CEO of ELES, illustrated the supraregional significance of the power line: “This project is of great importance not only for Slovenia but also for the wider region and Europe. That is why this project was included on the list of Projects of Common Interests in 2015, while in 2019 we managed to acquire €50m funds.” Mr Mervar also explained that the project, which includes major upgrades of switchgears in Cirkovce, is the largest investment in transmission infrastructure in the history of ELES, totalling some €150m. Finally, he emphasised the good cooperation of the three TSCNET shareholders ELES, HOPS, and MAVIR: “Without this cooperation, this project would surely not be happening today.”

ELES has started construction of the Cirkovce-Pince 400kV line, which will connect the transmission grids of Slovenia, Hungary, and Croatia (picture: ELES; from right to left: Gordan Grlić-Radman, Viktor Orban, Janez Janša; second from left: Aleksander Mervar)

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Line maintenance under extra high voltage

14.10.2020

For the maintenance of extra-high voltage overhead lines, transmission system operators (TSOs) normally have to shut down the line in question. This practice is more than understandable in view of occupational safety. On the other hand, it also reduces transmission capacity and increases the workload of the staff in the TSO’s network control centre who are in charge of coordinating the shutdown. An ideal solution must thus take both into account: first and foremost, the protection of employees and then the best possible utilisation of the facilities.

The Swiss TSO and TSCNET shareholder Swissgrid has carried out a pilot test on the 380kV line Chamoson-Romanel near Lausanne. At the beginning of October, just a few hundred metres from the Romanel substation and in the landing corridor of Lausanne-Blécherette airport, an orange signal ball was installed on the ground wire of the line, which had not been switched off beforehand. Swissgrid drew on the expertise and technology of Airtelis, a subsidiary of the French TSO RTE. Since the 1980s, Airtelis has been working on methods and technologies that allow maintenance work on extra-high voltage lines to be carried out safely and without switching off the power.

An Airtelis/RTE team of around 15 specialists travelled to the western Swiss canton of Vaud. An RTE helicopter also arrived on site, adapted to the work under voltage and equipped with various mirrors and an on-board camera. A special nacelle was attached to the helicopter with insulating anti-rotation ropes. Two Airtelis team members climbed into the nacelle to install the signal ball during the flight. They wore a suit specially designed for work under voltage, which protects its wearer like a Faraday cage. The installation work was carried out exactly as planned and was safely completed after 30 minutes. Swissgrid will now analyse the experience gained from this pilot project, in which the first maintenance work under voltage was carried out in Switzerland, and assess whether this technology should be used generally in future.

Swissgrid has carried out a test on the maintenance of high-voltage overhead lines without disconnecting them from the grid (picture: Swissgrid)

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Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line put in operation

05.10.2020

With the Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line, the Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT has commissioned an important grid expansion project for the German and European energy transition. The 380kV line from the new substation Fedderwarden near Wilhelmshaven on the German North Sea coast to the Conneforde substation in Ammerland, both in the federal state of Lower Saxony, is not only crucial for the transmission of mainly wind power and electricity from regional generators, but also for strengthening security of supply in northern Lower Saxony. Furthermore, it represents a novelty for the TSCNET shareholder in terms of technical implementation: “With this new line, we have put into operation the first pilot project with two underground cable sections in three-phase technology and connected it to the meshed power grid in Germany,” explained Tim Meyerjürgens, COO of TenneT.

The commissioning ceremony on 2 October 2020 in Fedderwarden was attended by representatives from politics, including Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, and Energy and Olaf Lies, Minister for the Environment, Energy, Construction, and Climate Protection of Lower Saxony. The new line is only about 30 kilometres long, but – together with the new construction of the Fedderwarden substation – “of great importance for the entire European electricity trade”, commented Olaf Lies. The Minister was impressed by TenneT’s latest milestone in the energy transition. State Secretary Feicht referred to the newly gained potential for integrating large amounts of wind power into the German electricity market and the technical relevance of the pilot project: “Knowledge obtained in such pilot projects about the construction and operation of the technology will be of great benefit for further power grid expansion in the future.”

The line project was successfully completed after less than two years of construction. Almost 5 kilometres of the line were implemented as underground cables. However, even if TenneT can be satisfied with what has been accomplished so far and is strongly committed to expanding the transmission of green electricity throughout its entire grid area, Meyerjürgens sees a need for further action, especially in view of the increasing offshore wind volumes: “Still, we already see today a further demand for expansion in the Wilhelmshaven and Friesland region.”

TenneT commissioned the new Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line (picture: TenneT)

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Tunnel drilling for last section of the Nant de Drance connection

03.10.2020

The Nant de Drance pumped storage power plant in the Swiss canton of Valais is one of the most powerful power plants of its kind in Europe, generating around 2.5bn kWh per year, when it goes fully operational in 2021. The plant has been commissioned successively in sections in recent years. TSCNET shareholder Swissgrid, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO), is responsible for connecting the power plant to the extra-high voltage grid and for transmitting the hydropower to urban areas in Switzerland. Two of the three sections of the extra-high voltage link to Nant de Drance – an underground cable of 6.5 kilometres between the power station and the Châtelard substation via the access tunnel of the plant and an overhead line of 12.5 kilometres between the Châtelard and La Bâtiaz substations – have been in operation since the end of November 2018.

Tunnel boring has now begun for the third and final section between the substations of La Bâtiaz and Le Verney, which belongs to the municipality of Martigny. The mini tunnel boring machine, weighing around 60 tonnes, was traditionally given a female name on 2 October 2020 at the construction site in Le Verney and will in future be known as Giorgia. Shortly after its christening, it was lowered into the shaft, where it will take around eight months to dig and secure the tunnel between the substations. The tunnel will have a diameter of 2.5m and is dug 12 to 20m deep into the ground. Giorgia is controlled entirely from the control centre at the construction site in Le Verney.

Construction of the underground cable link commenced in June 2020 with the excavation of the shaft at Le Verney and will take two years. The shaft at La Bâtiaz will be dug at the same time as tunnelling work. The finishing work in the tunnel will follow from summer 2021, after which the gantry to connect the Nant de Drance link to the 380kV Chamoson-Romanel overhead line in Le Verney will be built. Finally, the cables will be laid in the tunnel. Commissioning of the 1.2km long underground line is scheduled for 2022. Nant de Drance is already now connected to the transmission grid even before the last section of the link is commissioned: An interim solution was introduced in 2019 by increasing the voltage of one of the two overhead lines between La Bâtiaz and Le Rosel to 380kV.

Swissgrid has started tunnel drilling for the final section of the connection of Nant de Drance to the national 380kV grid (picture: Swissgrid)

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TransnetBW modernises Herbertingen-Hoheneck line

01.10.2020

Like any transmission system operator (TSO), TransnetBW, the TSCNET shareholder from the southwest of Germany, regularly evaluates the condition of its facilities and transmission infrastructure to define necessary modernisation measures. This has revealed the need to renew the 380kV overhead line from Herbertingen in the south of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg to the Hoheneck substation in Ludwigsburg, about 20 kilometres north of the Swabian metropolitan city of Stuttgart. As part of the modernisation, several steel parts of 53 existing pylons will be replaced. The basic mast structure, that is height, width, and foundations, is not affected.

For the work on the line in the voltage range of the mast cantilever arms, disconnection of the corresponding electrical circuits is required. This has no effect on the regional power supply. Work on the roughly 120-kilometre-long transmission line began in the last week of September and is expected to be completed by the end of November 2020.

TransnetBW modernises the 380kV overhead line from Herbertingen to Hoheneck (exemplary picture: TransnetBW)

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New power line for west-central Switzerland

17.09.2020

Switzerland’s national sustainable energy strategy and the resulting growth in hydroelectricity generation in the cantons of Berne, Valais, and Ticino require a significant increase in electricity transmission capacities, particularly to transport green energy to the Swiss Central Plateau and to ensure long-term security of supply throughout the country. This requires the upgrade of existing lines to 380kV and the construction of new high-capacity lines. One example of this is the 220kV line from Innertkirchen in the district of Interlaken-Oberhasli (canton of Bern) to Ulrichen/Obergoms in the district of Goms (canton of Valais), most parts of which are over 60 years old.

To maintain a secure connection between Haslital and Obergoms in the future, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid has developed various planning corridors for the construction of a new extra-high voltage line and submitted them to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (FOE). The TSCNET shareholder has defined three main corridors, some of which include sub-corridors: The first option is a pure overhead line, which crosses high alpine terrain in parts. The second is partial cabling. Here, the middle section is implemented as underground cables, mainly in existing tunnels up to Obergoms. The third variant provides for underground cabling almost exclusively. Either in a new, yet to be built tunnel and then, as in the second alternative, in largely existing tunnels – or in the proposed multifunctional Grimsel Tunnel (envisaged for rail transport and power transmission). If the tunnel is used, the corridor variants for the last section to Ulrichen are possible as overhead line or underground cable        .

Each of the submitted options has specific advantages and disadvantages in terms of spatial planning, environment, technology, and economic efficiency. What they all have in common is the relief of settlements in the affected area, where overhead lines currently run partly through villages. The FOE is now discussing and evaluating the planning corridors. Its recommendation will then be submitted to public consultation, and the Swiss Federal Council is expected to determine the planning corridor and transmission technology between Innertkirchen and Ulrichen at the end of 2022.

Swissgrid has designed and submitted corridor variants for the new Innertkirchen-Ulrichen 380kV line (picture of the existing line: Swissgrid)

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Building permit for the Uckermark line of 50Hertz

13.08.2020

Since 2005, 50Hertz, the transmission system operator (TSO) from the north-east of Germany, has been engaged in the planning of the new, higher capacity Uckermark Line (“Uckermarkleitung”). The new 380kv overhead line is to replace the existing 220kv line that went into operation in 1958, whereby the TSCNET shareholder takes account of the growing relevance of renewable energies in its control area. The new Uckermark Line will run from the Bertikow substation near Prenzlau to the Neuenhagen substation in the north-east of Berlin and connect further substations, one of which is an important interconnector to Poland. It will be capable of transmitting up to five times more electricity, so that in future more wind and solar power from the German states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania can be transported to the southern consumption centres.

The start of construction of the 115-kilometre-long new line was delayed for reasons of bird protection: A German nature conservation association had filed a complaint against the planning approval decision granted in 2014. This necessitated a supplementary planning procedure, expert reports on bird protection, consultations, and modifications. The competent authority now granted the building permit, which maintains 50Hertz’ originally planned routing. The future Uckermark Line will no more affect the biosphere reserve Schorfheide-Chorin and thus pays considerable attention to nature conservation. Special permits have been issued for other bird sanctuaries that cannot be bypassed due to their size, including compensation measures to preserve biodiversity. The dismantling of the old power line plays an important role here, but also bird protection markers or special pylons with reduced height.

50Hertz has been cooperating for several years with various nature conservation organisations and ornithological observatories to better assess the possible threats to birds. A nationwide cooperative portal of TSOs and distribution system operators (DSOs) in conjunction with the Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI) for data on detected accident birds is particularly noteworthy in this context. To increase acceptance of a project as essential for the energy transition and climate protection as the Uckermark Line, it is important to reconcile the substantial ecological added value of the capacity expansion with other nature conservation interests. Hence, the commitment of 50Hertz both to the ecologically necessary grid extension and to other environmental interests is highly to be appreciated.

50Hertz has obtained construction permit for the new 380kV Uckermark line (symbolic picture: 50Hertz) 

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Way is paved for 400kV line in western Romania

29.07.2020

For more than ten years, the completion of the 400kV Oradea-Békéscsaba overhead line in the far west of Romania has been prevented due to unresolved ownership issues regarding the section Oradea South-Nădab. Because of this, the line could only partially be put into operation, that is between the Romanian town Nădab and the Hungarian town Békéscsaba, near the Romanian-Hungarian border. Now the property situation has been clarified and the Romanian transmission system operator (TSO) and TSCNET shareholder Transelectrica was able to award the building contract for the missing section.

Transelectrica expects the construction work to be completed within twelve months. The commissioning of the last 72-kilometre section and thus the completion of the Oradea-Békéscsaba overhead line will contribute to the closure of the “400kV Ring” in the west of Romania. This project is a priority energy target for Romania, which will significantly improve the operational reliability of the national transmission system and security of electricity supply in the north-west of the country. The new Oradea-Békéscsaba line will also enable Transelectrica to eliminate congestions and thus save considerable costs for grid interventions. Finally, Romania’s interconnection capacity will be increased by 100MW in export and 300MW in import direction, which will not only contribute to compliance with EU regulations, but also make a sustainable contribution to the integration of the European electricity market.

Transelectrica has awarded the building contracts for the last section of the 400kV Oradea-Békéscsaba overhead line (picture of Oradea: Marculescu Eugen Iancu, Creative Commons)

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Construction permit for Pradella-La Punt

13.07.2020

As the extra-high voltage line in the Swiss Engadine between Pradella and La Punt constitutes a bottleneck in the Swiss and pan-European transmission system, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid has long aimed to increase its transmission capacity to 2 x 380kV. This will improve import capacity and security of supply in the canton of Graubünden and facilitate the transport of Engadine hydropower. The project is part of the “Strategic Grid 2025”, Swissgrid’s ambitious modernisation and expansion plan.

The Swiss Federal Inspectorate for Heavy Current Installations (Eidgenössisches Starkstrominspektorat-ESTI) now has approved the reinforcement and new construction of pylons between Pradella and La Punt. Swissgrid has already refurbished the pylon foundations in the past two years, so that work can commence soon. Approximately 3500 tonnes of steel will be needed to upgrade the around 50-kilometre-long overhead line. The construction will be carried out in two sections and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

To reduce the overall environmental impact in the region, Swissgrid is supporting a local grid operator in replacing a 60kV overhead line with a 110kV underground cable. As a result, 1100 pylons will be disappearing from the landscape.

Swissgrid can start with the 2 x 380kV upgrade of the Pradella-La Punt line (picture: Swissgrid)

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