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Transformer is giant piece of CapX2020 project

The CapX2020 North Rochester Substation Transformer, shipped by rail recently from Waukesha, Wis., to Randolph, Minn., is off-loaded and transported Sunday evening from Randolph to the substation near Pine Island. The transformer was transported on a 385-foot trailer.

PINE ISLAND - A hulking device called a transformer arrived early today at a substation near Pine Island with an entourage usually reserved for heads of state.

And it's huge.

The device is so big the Minnesota Department of Transportation wouldn't allow it to be transported except at night. As big as a bedroom and weighing 542,000 pounds, the transformer was hauled by a 385-foot trailer flanked by State Patrol cruisers with lights flashing. It took about five hours to cross the 34 miles from Randolph to Pine Island.

The transformer is the biggest building block in a project aimed at expanding an electrical transmission grid that stretches 150 miles from Hampton to Rochester to La Crosse, Wis. Its arrival marks the near-completion of the line, one of the five line upgrades across the Midwest collectively known as the $2.2 billion CapX2020 project.

"It's almost one of the final pieces to the puzzle because the North Rochester substation (in Pine Island) is nearly complete," said Tim Carlsgaard, communications manager for CapX2020/Xcel Energy.


But installation of the transformer will have to wait. Unloading has been delayed until Tuesday morning because of the cold.

CapX2020 is the most expensive expansion of the Midwest's power grid in more than 40 years. When complete, the newly expanded grid will have new capacity and an improved ability to move renewable energy east from the wind farms of North Dakota, South Dakota and western and southern Minnesota.

Beefing up the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse line carries special significance for the Rochester region. During the last several years, the decades-old transmission grid often has reached its limit during hot summer "peak" stretches, Carlsgaard said. That has forced Rochester Public Utilities to ask customers to cut down on energy consumption. Rochester's appetite is only expected to spiral upwards, as it undergoes a projected expansion fueled by billions in investment dollars as part of Destination Medical Community.

"That transmission system that feeds Rochester has really kind of reached its tipping point where it needs to be upgraded," Carlsgaard said. "That's what this does."

A transformer is a device that takes electricity at one voltage and changes it into another. The transformer at Pine Island is the largest of all those in the CapX projects. It took about a year and half to build.

Its function will be to take electricity from 345 kV line (345,000 volts) that feeds into it, "knock it down" to 161,000 volts, then send it out on a 161 kV line to the Northern Hills substation in Rochester. From there, it will spread through a grid to neighborhoods and businesses across the Rochester area.

A new 345 kilovolt line that will run into the Pine Island substation is under construction. It is expected to be brought online in six to 12 months. Until then, an existing one that runs from the Prairie Island nuclear plant to Pine Island will provide electricity to the substation.

Officials say they hope to have the Pine Island substation electrified and the 161 kilovolt line between Pine Island and the Northern Hills energized by April 1, so electricity begins flowing through it to Rochester homes in about two months.


As important will be the refurbished grid's ability to aid Rochester's growth, officials say.

"Reliable energy is the engine for any community or any state or any region to move forward," Carlsgaard said. "And when you look at Rochester and the plans that are in the works, through Mayo and others, they're not going to be able to do these things unless they have a source of reliable electricity."

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