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ATCO Electric: An innovative approach to powering Jasper National Park

An environmental performance case study from the 2014 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, Engaged for a Sustainable Future.



Any construction and maintenance activities in Jasper National Park have to preserve both the natural environment and the tourist experience. For electricity provider ATCO Electric, this means taking extra steps to avoid affecting wildlife, water bodies and vegetation, and to reduce the visual impact of power lines.


In 2013, a six-kilometre section of distribution line was nearing its end of life. Constructed in the 1950s, the line’s thin, bare conductor was prone to faults from falling trees and heavy snowfalls, causing service interruptions at tourist attractions like Marmot Basin Ski Resort. Because the line follows narrow rights-of-way, crosses three rivers and is built on rough mountain terrain, upgrading it in a way that balanced the need for reliable service with Parks Canada’s environmental requirements required outside-the-box solutions.


A section of the newly-installed aerial spacer cable system along the Astoria River. Photo courtesy of ATCO Electric.


Overcoming challenging terrain

For only the second time in its history, ATCO Electric decided to install an aerial spacer cable system. Constructed with heavy-gauge messenger wire, a wire used to support the aerial cable, covered cable and spacer brackets attached every 30 feet, the system can better withstand falling trees. It is also compact, making it suitable for narrow rights-of-way. While spacer cable technology has existed for many years, it has not been widely used in Alberta, making this a new experience for the project team that involved extensive research, planning and training.


Even with the spacer cable technology, constructing a line in this environment proved challenging. The narrow rights-of-way meant standard bucket trucks could not access the line in several areas, a particularly pressing problem given that spacer brackets needed to be installed every 30 feet along the line. The solution? Boatswain’s chairs, which allowed ATCO Electric employees to be safely suspended from the messenger wire to perform aerial work. A new work method had to be developed specifically for this application. It proved so successful that it will be used for future maintenance of the line.


Bucket trucks were not the only vehicles unable to reach the work site. In some areas, the usual methods of hauling materials would not work. After considering a number of options, a helicopter was used to transport poles, saving time and reducing traffic on the rights-of-way. Other low-ground-pressure vehicles like rubber-tracked all-terrain vehicles further kept ground disturbance to a minimum.


Crews completed stringing from pre-planned stringing locations selected to minimize disturbance. A lead roller pulled the conductors along the messenger wire on roller brackets, each attached to the next in line by a 30-foot rope, greatly minimizing travel along the right-of-way.


Minimizing impact on tourism

Because the winter construction period overlapped Marmot Basin Ski Resort’s operating season, minimizing impact on the resort was key. At the Miette River crossing, a temporary underground bypass avoided temporary pole placement and allowed the ski resort to remain in operation. Night-time outages were arranged at another creek crossing.


The effort and careful consideration paid off. The line was successfully energized in late 2013, and already park staff has noticed significant improvements on service reliability. Because of this success, ATCO Electric is now looking to use the aerial spacer cable system in other areas.


ATCO Electric employees using traditional aerial work methods. Photo courtesy of ATCO Electric.


Use the menu at the right to read more member success stories and case studies from the 2014 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, Engaged for a Sustainable Future, or get the PDF here.