Notes from Windward: #59

Long Time Coming

Installing the Underground Power Line

Unwinding the Cable in Conduit
It's been a long time coming, but it's finally happening.

It was almost three years ago that we made the decision to extend Windward's main underground power line another 670' westward. It was a big project in many ways. It involved a lot of work and cost, in depended on coordinating our efforts with inspectors and outside contractors, and it would make a major step in Windward's longterm development.

Step One was coming up with the capital contribution that the power company wanted to cover the cost of the wire and transformers. That came to $3,500.

Installing the new tranformer
Step Two involved building the pedestals and installing the meter bases, disconnects and service lines needed to use the power once it was installed. Electrical installation is an expense "game" to play, and when you're moving up to non-standard items like 400 amp meter bases instead of the more common 200 amp units, the cost goes way up. There was one switch box alone that wholesaled for $800, and the conduit for the telephone circuits (not the wire, just the tube the wire goes in) ran more than $500.

Step Three involved bringing in the heavy trackhoe needed to dig the grand ditch. We dig a lot of ditches here at Windward, but this was way out of our league. We had to wait until the equipment was available, and that was dicey since the delay was pushing us right up against winter. The rain and snow comes when it will, and odds it'll come before you want it too. This year, we've been lucky.

Detouring around the rock shelf
The digging was hard because of how dry the ground was, but sometimes, hard is better than soft. In the spring, there are times when the ground is so wet that the dirt won't fall out of the bucket on the backhoe. Our soil has a lot of clay in it, and when it's wet, it's also sticky.

The size of the trackhoe was sufficient to do the job in most places, but there were still stretches where he had to switch over to the small bucket, and then go back and dig it out with the wider bucket. The only place that wouldn't yield was right in the middle of the road. About two feet down, the trackhoe uncovered a rock shelf that wouldn't yield to anything less than dynamite. By diverting around the rock, Rick was able to create a channel deep enough for the cable.

Once the transformers were in place, the install crew made the connections between the transformer to the 400 amp meter bases. The way it works is that they're responsible for everything up to the meter base, while we're responsible for everything from that point on. Since our side of the job is already completed, and has been inspected and "green tagged" by the electrical inspector, as soon as they're done and happy with the backfilling of the trench, they can "heat up" the line.

The CIC connects at the old transformer
Step Four involves backfilling the first two feet of the trench, so that the high voltage wire is safely buried down below any reasonable possibility of disturbance. When this stage of the backfill process is completed, the trench is still one foot below grade.

Two things happen at this point. The first involves laying down a six inch wide strip of red plastic tape on which all sorts of warnings are conveyed in words and pictures. The idea is that if anyone starts to dig where the cable is buried, they'll run into this warning tape long before they get any where near the hot wire.

The second task is to install a run of inch and a half diameter electrical conduit. This is our "miscellaneous" conduit, and it's intended to provide a path for the phone lines, video lines and whatever else may become desirable in the future.

For example, we're currently connecting to the internet via standard phone lines. Because of the lousy way that the toll agreement handles our calls, we're only able to get connection speeds of around 20K. In fairness, that's a heck of a lot better than what we started out with. Especially since we're able to get through to our ISP with a "local" call. That's in quotes because what's actually happening is that our calls are routed from Klickitat to The Dalles and then up to Goldendale. If we dial The Dalles directly, we get much higher connect speeds, but that's a charge call. It's frustrating to know that our calls are going through The Dalles anyway, but that they won't let us connect there without going on to Goldendale first. I't simple math; three switches slow down the connection more than two switches.

Anyway, if we decide that we need a fiber optic cable to run up to the top of the hill so that we can operate a line-of-sight microwave connection to our ISP in order to get a full time, high-speed connection, then we've got the conduit space we'd need in order to run the cable. No one is telecommuting from Windward, at least not yet, but we expect that to happen in the near future and want to facilitate it when and where we can. It's cheap enough to do it now; it would be a real pain to come back in and run the line later. This way, the conduit will be in place, and there'll be as string in there that can be used to pull another cable whenever we want to.

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