The Yellowstone electrical system isn’t always the most dependable system on the planet, so a plan to improve the reliability, safety and overall service quality of the Northwestern Energy (NWE) system was approved by Sue Masica, director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service, last week.
An Environmental Assessment (EA) that analyzed four alternatives to the current Yellowstone electrical system was released for a 45-day public comment period on November 6, 2013.
The plan seeks to reduce the duration of power outages, improve system reliability and improve visitor and employee safety. Much of NWE’s existing power infrastructure in the park has not been updated since the 1950s and is prone to frequent outages because of the remote nature of the park, inhospitable terrain, climate, and tree cover near transmission lines. Additionally, the park’s system lacks modern communication infrastructure that would normally facilitate diagnosing and correcting the cause of power outages from NWE’s central offices in Montana. Further, the lack of reliable communications inside the park can make it difficult for NWE employees to safely implement repairs when outages occur.
Components of the plan include incorporating automated, remote power monitoring and control system technology, as well as the installation of equipment buildings, back-up power generators and propane fuel tanks. Communication technology upgrades include the construction of new metal lattice towers at each of the seven existing NWE electrical substations located within the park as well as the installation of a new tower outside the park on U.S. Forest Service property. The plan also includes a commitment by park managers to periodically review technologies that may be available for future automation of electrical substations. If and when lower impact communications technologies are available, managers may work with NWE to implement those communication solutions.
Copies of the EA and the FONSI are available on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) Web site at parkplanning.nps.gov/NWEPlan.