With most of the controversy over the route now behind it, Rocky Mountain Power has launched construction of its new high-voltage transmission line that will run from Downey in southeastern Idaho to an existing substation west of Salt Lake City International Airport.
The 135-mile-long project known as the "Populus to Terminal" transmission line will cost approximately $600 million and is scheduled to be completed in 2010.
It is part of a massive $6 billion project of approximately 2,000 miles of new transmission lines that PacifiCorp, the Oregon-based utility that does business as Rocky Mountain Power and Pacific Power, hopes to complete in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and possibly Colorado by 2014.
"We recognize that economic realities being what they are, we may have to make some adjustments to our construction plans, but those transmission lines still will need to be built," said Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.
The new Downey to Salt Lake City line is needed to ensure the company has enough capacity to serve its Utah customers, whose demand for electricity has been increasing in recent years, Eskelsen said.
Part of the transmission line -- a 46-mile segment that will run from the southern border of Box Elder County to Salt Lake City -- generated little controversy because it will be built using an existing Rocky Mountain Power right of way that contains three other major lines.
Yet the remaining segment that stretches from southern Box Elder County to the Utah-Idaho border sparked more than one round of angry confrontations between the power company, public officials and landowners, many of whom were upset about the selected route.
And one community in Box Elder County, Willard, still must give the company final permission to build within its boundaries. "We'll be meeting with them soon for a final review," said Jay Aguilar, Willard's city planner.
Aguilar said that, when dealing with the power company, small Utah communities were more or less on their own and faced millions in additional expenses if they ultimately were unsuccessful in getting the company to change the route.
"One of the big problems is that there is no state agency overseeing the process that we could turn to for help," he said.
Eskelsen said preliminary construction work on the project began in February at the end points of the transmission line in Salt Lake City and Downey.
The early stages of construction will include building access roads and excavation for the concrete foundations that will support the transmission line towers.
"There haven't been any major additions to our transmission system since the 1980s," Eskelsen said.