Teamwork ensures downtown Charleston stays open
Combined AEP Transmission and Distribution crews needed just eight weeks—from conception to completion—to build an overhead transmission line above city streets in downtown Charleston to keep businesses open and warm this winter as crews repair the city's vital and aging underground transmission system.
"They [all AEP personnel] worked a miracle," said Frank Jenkins, the project manager for AEP Transmission. "It was a great example of teamwork to make it happen."
The situation: Two of three underground 46-kilovolt (kV) cables supplying downtown Charleston needed repair. Upgrading those two lines, however, risked overloading the system.
"The worry was putting all of downtown Charleston in the dark if that single underground line failed," said Jenkins.
The solution? Build a new temporary overhead 46-kV line between Brooks Street and Washington Street stations, as soon as possible. This would relieve stress on the underground cable and allow crews to fix the underground lines. But constructing an overhead line through busy downtown streets was no easy task. It required quickly obtaining rights-of-way from property owners of 14 parcels; procuring, moving and storing materials; finding a convenient staging area for equipment; scheduling the crews; and coordinating with the Charleston police department to re-route vehicle and pedestrian traffic and ensure public safety and security.
Starting January 2, eight AEP Transmission Field Services (TFS) crews (some 50 line mechanics) began erecting 26 poles over a ¾-mile zigzagging route and then installing the new lines, typically working 12- to 14-hour days in cold weather conditions. Crews from Kentucky and Ohio joined the effort. They energized the line on January 11.
Jenkins likened the effort to the work of Apollo 13 astronauts who improvised repairs on a damaged space craft and safety returned to Earth.
"We were able to get materials in just a few days instead of weeks or months," he said. "We made it work with the materials we had"
The new overhead line will stay in service about five years while the underground system is upgraded.