Golden Valley Electric Association installs first of its kind transmission circuit breaker

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 4:14 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) has installed a first of its kind 145kV vacuum insulated transmission circuit breaker here in Fairbanks.

According to Nathan Minnema, Senior Engineer for GVEA, prior breakers would require fossil fuels for insulation.

“These are the first 145kV vacuum insulated transmission circuit breakers of their kind,” Minnema explained. “There have been lower class voltage breakers that are vacuum insulated, but this is the first of this voltage class. Prior to the vacuum technology, all the transmission breakers were either oil insulated or gas insulated. For example, Golden Valley has gas insulated breakers that utilize SF6 gas for insulating the interrupting means inside the breaker.

Minnema continued, “So, this transition to vacuum technology is going away from the gas and oil insulating means to truly just air insulated. Our ability to utilize the vacuum technology eliminates the need for the oil and gas inside of the breaker. So the interrupting means inside of the breaker is insulated in a vacuum air bottle, where it can safely interrupt the high voltage lines.”

While a breaker of this size is new, GVEA has used this technology in the past with smaller breakers.

“The new vacuum breaker technology is really revolutionary,” Minnema elaborated. “This breaker is the first of its kind in the world that’s being deployed. We felt confident in using the new technology because we have a past history of installing and operating 20-plus breakers at a lower voltage class using the same technology. So we were confident moving into this newer field and being on the leading edge of these new higher voltage class vacuum breakers. It really allows us to move away from the environmental concerns and reporting requirements with an oil or gas fueled breaker.”

Along with being environmentally friendly, the new breakers will also save on costs according to Minnema. “I think the other really neat piece for the vacuum breakers that really benefits Golden Valley and our members is that [they have] no auxiliary heat requirements. If you kind of think of your car with an oil pan heater on your car, it’s similar with an oil filled breaker or a gas filled breaker. [It] will have to have up to 5,000 watts of heat on any oil or gas filled breaker, and due to the vacuum breaker technology, those heating requirements are no longer required. So it really lets us reduce our energy consumption for station service load, for keeping our breakers functional, and lowers our cost in that way.”

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