Proposed Avon-to-Gilman transmission line generates concern in Minturn |

Proposed Avon-to-Gilman transmission line generates concern in Minturn

A view of a hillside in Down Junction near Minturn, which would contain 50- to 75-foot poles for a transmission cable under a plan currently under review by the U.S. Forest Service.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

A proposed power line through Minturn would bring a backup transmission circuit to the town, but is also causing concern in the community.

Holy Cross Energy is seeking to construct an 8.9-mile transmission line between Avon and Gilman, along with 7.5 miles of access road, in an effort to reduce risk of electrical outages due to a lack of redundancy in the current system.

While the project is called the Avon-to-Gilman Transmission Line, no point of the project occurs within the town of Avon.

About 3 miles of the transmission line would be buried, with overhead structures carrying the remaining 5.9 miles of the transmission line. The structures would range in height from 50 to 75 feet and would use wood and steel construction.

An illustration of a typical wooden tangent structure for carrying transmission lines. The proposed Avon-to-Gilman transmission line would be similar, only using braced post insulators instead of regular post insulators as depicted in the illustration.
Courtesy illustration

The transmission line would also service a potential increase in demand from population growth and expanded use of electric vehicles amid ongoing efforts to replace traditional fuel with electricity while decarbonizing the electric grid.

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But risks have been identified, including the increased risk of wildfire that comes with power lines in the West. The issue has been especially prevalent in California where problems with vegetation surrounding power lines goes back decades. A court determined the Rough and Ready Fire in 1994, which destroyed 12 homes, was caused by power lines from PG&E.

“In 2015, court records showed, PG&E’s equipment ignited 435 fires, including a blaze traced to a single spindly gray pine that the utility had failed to remove,“ The California Sunday magazine reported in 2019. ”The tree leaned over and touched a high-voltage power line, sparking a wildfire that burned across Calaveras County, scorching 70,868 acres, destroying 549 homes and killing two people.“

The U.S. Forest Service, through discussions with Eagle County fire mitigation specialists, identified areas of high wildfire risk in the proposed Avon-to-Gilman transmission line, indicated in this illustration, which is based on Eagle County wildfire data from 2017.
Courtesy illustration

Risk of starting, being impacted by wildfire

The project would have 3.4 miles of if it on U.S. Forest Service property.

The Forest Service, in publishing a draft environmental analysis of the proposed Avon-to-Gilman transmission line, found there to be wildfire concern from both the risk of the new transmission line starting a wildfire and the risk of the new transmission line being impacted by a wildfire.

“The ignition of a power line fire can occur due to high winds, contact with vegetation, equipment failure, or human or animal contact,” the Forest Service noted in its analysis.

However, the Forest Service notes, transmission lines are not as susceptible to fire as distribution lines, as they contain less fire-starting hardware. But if a wildfire were to start near the new power lines, “damage to critical electrical infrastructure could occur,” the Forest Service noted.

Concerns in Minturn

The town of Minturn, on Wednesday, will discuss the proposed transmission line.

Minturn town staff has recommended the Town Council send a comment letter to the Forest Service on the proposal, citing concerns with “fire hazards and other management challenges.”

Other concerns cited by town staff include the aesthetic values relative to Minturn’s mountain and river corridors; impacts to recreation, wildlife, future development, transportation and access; and concerns over the proximity of the project to the shooting range.

Also, according to Minturn town staff, “the town has a keen interest in ensuring that as much as possible of the transmission line is buried in order to mitigate wildfire risk from power lines that has been seen throughout the West.”

During a public scoping period in 2020, the Forest Service received comments from Eagle County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the town of Minturn, the town of Avon, Battle Entities, Eagle Valley Land Trust, and Minturn Towne Homes, as well as from 39 individuals.

In general, comments centered around six topics, the Forest Service noted. Those topics include visual impacts and perceived aesthetic impairment from construction, wildfire hazards, health hazards related to electro-magnetic field exposure, impacts on wildlife, economic impacts and recreation impacts.

The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the project through Oct. 3.

This story was edited to point out that no part of the Avon-to-Gilman Transmission Line occurs within the town of Avon.

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