PERRINE: American Practice in High-Tension Line Construction and Operation

[Trade Journal]

Publication: American Institute Of Electrical Engineers

New York, NY, United States
p. 67-81, col. 1




Delegate of the National Electric Light Association and of the Pacific Coast Transmission Association.

A characteristic of American practice is that it tends toward standards not only in the matter of the sizes of units, speeds and manufacture appearance, but also in the methods of producing results and in types of engineering. While it may be true that this tendency was originally based upon a desire for cheap manufacture and interchangeability of parts, at the same time it must be understood that the present elaboration of this policy is somewhat due to the fact that in so large a country the ideas of the best men cannot be directly applied except as they may be adopted for standards. No one section of the country produces the best men necessarily, nor does any one group of engineers dominate our practice. On the contrary, the meetings of our engineering societies have taken the character of sittings of committees, where are presented many plans, and where all plans are carefully discussed and sifted. From those presented the best is chosen and becomes the standard.

Accepting these results as the standard does not imply that there is general in this country a spirit of copying or of servile imitation among the engineers. On the contrary, we feel that the result of the attitude so prevalent in American engineering at the present time, of establishing standards, has introduced a wise spirit of conservatism, and has thrown the burden of proof upon each one presenting a new idea. At the same time it has resulted in raising the character of the average engineering work throughout the country, until today good American engineering can be found, not only in the great spectacular plants near enough to the large centers of progress to have the personal attention of the most experienced engineers, but in consequence of this system of practice an equally good type of engineering can be found in the plants in the out-of-the-way deserts or mountain regions, where the local engineer of good capacity, knowing his conditions thoroughly, has relied upon the standards established by his fellows in those particulars where his own experience has been limited, and in consequence a plant is produced, not only more perfectly adapted to the particular circumstances of its surroundings, but in all details more thoroughly satisfactory than could have been designed under any other system. Our rule is that invariably one should adhere to well-established practice and introduce such modifications as are made necessary by the local conditions. This does not limit the full employment of the energies and brains of the local engineer, since, without a special consideration of out-bide details, there is always in every transmission plant particular circumstances which tax the ingenuity of the best. That this is the general method of American practice will be seen by any one who consults the report of the standardizing committee of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The report covers, not only units, standard methods of testing, and details of manufacture, but also procedure, both outdoor and in, for all types of plants, and this report in itself has resulted in a certain similarity of type where problems to be solved are similar. The work of the transmission engineer lies in fields so essentially dissimilar that even in spite of this general tendency it may be difficult at first view to ascertain what is the American practice in work of this class. On closer examination one finds, however, this work falling into natural groups dependent on the length of transmission and the voltage employed, though what has been done has been materially modified by the date of erection, since during the past ten years modifications in the arts have been necessarily reflected in the types of construction.

The general groups have been somewhat decided by the manufacturers of machinery, who have presented as preferable certain available voltages. Above 2400 volts, where transmission proper really begins, the first voltage now commonly employed is 6600, which figure has been established as standard by the needs of the lighting plants in the great cities, and has been adopted by the transmission companies in place of either a higher or lower voltage mainly because it is a standard. For this voltage direct generation at high pressure is almost invariably used. The next higher voltage now commonly employed, and practically the first one for which step-up transformers are used, is 15,000. During the past few years this has taken the place of transmissions at 10,000, 12,000 and 13,000, and it is today the established voltage for high-tension electric railways, the general reason for its establishment as a standard being that this voltage is not more difficult to handle, as regards insulation or switching, than the three last-mentioned lower voltages, and, furthermore, that, where the lower voltages have been previously established, the sphere of operation of the transmission plant has been found to be rather too much limited. There are in the Rocky Mountain region and west a great number of the older plants operating at 10,000 volts, and whenever direct high-voltage generation has been attempted, voltages of from 12,000 to 13,000 volts are used; but, at the same time, the majority of the plants which have used these lower pressures in the past today have circuits with special transformers operating at the higher figure. The next step is to 25,000 volts, which is the highest figure reached without special study of insulators, switches and lightning arresters. This voltage has been successfully handled without serious trouble during the past six years. A voltage of 33,000 is employed in a number of plants built about five years ago, and at this figure the special difficulties due to line capacity, insulator size, erratic lightning-arrester effects and switching begin to make themselves seriously felt. Above 33,000 volts the standard voltage is called 60,000, although in all plants that have heretofore been established to operate at this pressure, there have been installed transformers arranged for connection to various voltages of from 40,000 up to 60,000 volts, and the majority of these plants are today operating at about 50,000 volts, some of them being unable to operate at the highest pressure on account of the character of line insulators originally installed. In the choice of voltage for any transmission it is considered the best practice to establish it at the rate of 1000 volts per mile, provided the length of transmission be not above 60 miles, since above 60,000 volts no commercial work has been regularly attempted. In the table recently presented by the transmission committee of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the highest average voltage per mile for any one class in their report is 840; but in examining this table it must be remembered that their correspondents have reported the total length of line in service, so that, if a plant be operating two lines fifteen miles each in length at 15,000 volts, the table would indicate an operation at 500 volts per mile, although for each line the transmission was at 1000 volts per mile.

The common lighting frequencies of 125 and 133 have, for transmission lines, given place entirely to the frequencies of 60-40-30 and 25, no use having been made in this country of the frequency of 100, and only in one locality has there been any employment of 50 periods.

In the transformation from one frequency to another, which is found often to be advantageous, simple apparatus would be employed if the frequencies in use were multiples of each other and use made of 25-50 and 100 or of 30-GO and 120, but, unfortunately, the four frequencies mentioned have been practically used and are to-day too thoroughly established for further change. Systems in which lighting is the principle element, and where distribution over a wide territory make the work of small communities an important element to the business office, employ a frequency of 60 periods per second and at this frequency large amounts of energy is transmitted to considerable distances at the highest voltages. The frequency of 40 is largely confined to transmissions from which cotton mills are operated, this having resulted in motor speeds suitable to their line shafting.

For a number of years the two frequencies of 30 and 25 have contested for supremacy in plants primarily established for power purposes and for the operation of rotary converters, but largely on account of the very great amount of machinery installed at Niagara and employing a frequency of 25 that is becoming more and more to be the established standard for power purposes and seems likely to displace altogether the higher, which has no distinct superiority except that it is one-half the standard frequency used in lighting.

In the generation of power the revolving-armature machine has almost disappeared from the new plants, and revolving-field generators have become so settled in type that those produced by different manufacturers are hardly distinguishable by the casual observer. For the low-head plants using turbine wheels it is necessary to provide for a 50 per cent increase of speed, and in the high-head plants, where impulse wheels are employed, a strength sufficient to withstand a speed increase of 100 per cent must be allowed to provide against damage from overspeeding should the power be thrown off and the water continue to flow. The machine fulfilling these conditions and practically adopted by all the manufacturers is characteristically a revolving field machine with the poles keyed to a cast-steel spider, the field windings being of copper strip wound upon edge, the armature being constructed of a cast-iron box girder supporting the stationary armature laminations. Almost the only departure from this type of construction for power-transmission work is found in the balanced type of inductor machine, where the field is magnetized by a central stationary field coil wound with copper strip, the armature in two halves symmetrically arranged around the central core being of laminations supported either by cast-iron rings connected together by cold-rolled steel bars or supported by a steel shell to which the armature laminations are keyed.

Various station voltages have been employed, but, where direct generation at 6600 or 12,000 volts has not been resorted to, the practice is setting more and more to the use of about 2300 volts, this being chosen because the lower voltages require large extra station copper and the higher voltages are felt to introduce unnecessary station difficulties of insulation and switching. For switching, the present type of 2300-volt oil switch has been so well developed, by reason of the great number of plants operating at this pressure, that for handling a particular amount of energy it is both cheaper and better than any 500-volt switch on the market.

For plants operating at less than 25,000 volts, the step-up transformers in use are about equally divided between the water-cooled, oil-filled types and air-blast types. Where a good supply of water is to be readily obtained, the oil-filled transformers have generally been given preference, as they can be more readily adjusted for a varying flow of water at different loads. The question of the relative fire risk from the two types has been extensively discussed, and it can hardly be said that any very definite conclusion has been finally reached, though the weight of opinion seems by far to be that the fire risk is at least not increased by the use of the oil-filled transformer, and the actual risk in either type seems to be a matter largely of installation. It is perfectly true that there have been some very serious fires, resulting in the complete destruction of power plants, where oil-filled transformers have been used, but in each case the fire has started outside of the transformers, though they themselves, by reason of being installed without reference to safety in case of fire, have furnished fuel which has augmented the conflagration. Today the conditions of installation for safety are better understood, and it now only remains to be decided whether, in the case of a fire actually arising, the oil shall he run out and the transformer cases filled with water, or the whole transformer protected, either by running an excessive amount of water through their cooling coils, or by so installing them that the transformers may temporarily be submerged to within a few inches of their tops. Actual protection of transformers by running water through their cooling coils has been found to be effective in at least one serious fire.

For high-tension switching, use has been made of a long arc broken between carbon terminals, long-inclosed fuse, a fuse dawn through a tube filled with a fine, non-conducting powder, and of oil switches. The first two types, while interrupting the circuit well, draw an arc of excessive length and produce a surging which may result in an increased potential of at least as much s as 50 per cent. In consequence, these types are rapidly disappearing except in plants operating at 15,000 volts and below, where the carbon break is preferred to the inclosed fuse, though it is common to install the two in series, allowing the fuse to operate as a safety device, but not for the purpose of switching. The type of switch where a wire is drawn through a tube filled with powder is found to operate successfully up to 40,000 volts and without serious surging on the circuit, but the powder being blown out with great force, scatters over the entire station, and is in consequence not allowable. The oil switches mainly employed are those with the vertical break and those with the horizontal break. The vertical-break switch has the advantage that the amount of oil contained in the oil-tank is relatively small, and will add to possible conflagration only a slight amount of fuel. This switch is found on severe short-circuits often to blow all the oil out of the tank unless the tank is built very strongly, when it becomes necessary to insulate the plunger from the tank as it enters the switch. The horizontal-break switch, while containing a large amount of oil, will for die same length of break, handle about 25 per cent more energy at any definite potential. This switch can success-fully be used at 60,000 volts, and up to the present time has not been found to blow the oil from the tank. These two types of oil-switch are the standard today, no distinct preference being given to the horizontal switch, though the writer believes that in the future this type will be used as a standard for the highest potentials.

Transmission with two-phase connection of circuits, whether using three or four wires, has for voltages above 6600 given place entirely to transmission with a three-phase connection, though three-phase transmission with two-phase distribution described by Mr. Scott at the International Congress of 1893 is very extensively employed.

The relative merits of the delta and star connection of the lines to the transformers is still somewhat in dispute, so much so that in plants of the highest voltage, where several voltages are provided, certain of the lower voltages are obtained by delta connections to the transformers, while the higher voltages are to be obtained by a star connection. In general it may be stated that up to 25,000 volts the delta connection is generally preferred, principally because with this connection a ground upon one line does not necessarily result in a short-circuit, and, furthermore, the service is not necessarily interrupted in the case of the failure of a single transformer. At voltages higher than 25,000 volts the transformers for delta connection become more difficult to build and insulate. Furthermore, a single ground anywhere produces disturbances of a serious character, and in consequence the star connection with the grounded neutral is employed, advantage being taken of the fact that a grounded neutral aids in the distribution of unbalanced loads, and furthermore the rise of pressure which may occur from line discharge at the time of an open-circuit or a short-circuit are not so likely to produce serious results.

For the distribution of current through the low-tension mains, it is generally the custom to transform to 2300 volts two-phase unless either the load is mainly one of motors, or unless there are important motors of considerable size to be supplied at a distance of half a mile or more from the sub-station. In such cases three-phase star-connected four-wire distribution is employed, allowing the connection of distributing devices either to a 2300-volt circuit between lines and the neutral wire, or a connection to a 4000-volt delta circuit for balanced loads. This combination of circuits is found to be extremely useful where a mixed load is to be supplied at varying distances.

The high-tension lines themselves are preferably run over private right of way. Railroad rights of way were at first highly prized on account of the entire absence of trees and disturbing structures, and furthermore on account of the fact that inspection and repairs are most easily provided for; but experience with such lines has proven that, for transmissions at even so low a tension as 15,000 volts, the interference with insulation by the smoke from the locomotives, which covers the insulators, more than counterbalances all the advantages, and today such rights of way are more commonly shunned than sought. Where railroad locomotive smoke combined with sea fog is encountered, it becomes absolutely necessary to clean each insulator at frequent periods, even though the voltage of transmission be not more than 5000 or 10,000. Along the country road this difficulty is not apparent, but in some localities farm structures and trees interfere with the transmission, so that in general it may be said that a private right of way that the transmission company can absolutely control is much to be preferred. In the most recent types of construction the height of pole is limited as much as possible. While there may be some increased security from malicious disturbance in the use of high poles and a decrease of line capacity may be expected, these advantages are only obtained at the expense of stability and at an increased cost. A pole 35 ft. long set 5 ft. in the ground permits the safe installation of either a single three-phase line with a spread of as much as 6 ft. by supporting one insulator on the top of the pole and the other two on the ends of a long cross-arm; or it may be used to support two three-phase circuits on opposite sides of the pole with a spread between wires of 3 ft. by the use of two cross-arms, and at the same time such a pole permits the safe installation of telephone or other signaling circuits on brackets or cross-arms at a safe distance below the power lines. These poles should not be less than 8 in. in diameter at the top and not less than 12 in. in diameter at the ground line. Variations from these dimensions may be considered as being due to special considerations based upon the location of the lines or arrangement of the circuits. It is true that such a standard pole may only be arrived at after a consideration of the wind stresses on the particular lines taken in conjunction with the spacing of the poles, but as the maximum pole spacing on transmission lines is about 135 ft., at average wind velocities these pole dimensions may be considered safe. Extra strength required by variations of wind stress, either due to an increase in the number of wires or to a necessity for allowance for sleet, is more commonly taken care of by shortening the spans than by an increase in the size of the pole. In some cases where severe sleet conditions are to be encountered and the wires are large, it is the practice to install these poles at not more than 50 ft. apart.

The material used for poles depends largely on the locality. In the Southeastern States chestnut is the favorite wood; along the Canadian border and through the Rocky Mountain regions cedar is employed, while square-sawn redwood is used almost exclusively on the Pacific Coast. With increase in voltages and consequent increased trouble from insulators, a demand has arisen for a pole-line construction which will permit a decrease in the number of insulators and allow an increase in the size of each. This has been accomplished by the use of galvanized-iron towers not less than 40 ft. from the ground-line to the wires, and spaced about 500 ft. apart. One plant in Mexico has recently successfully installed this method of construction. A second in the same country has contracted for its material, and a number of plants in the United States are contemplating its use. The question of the life of wooden poles depends not only upon the character of the wood and its condition when cut, but also upon the local conditions of atmosphere and soil. In some places the poles which are available have no longer life than about five years, and, in the extreme, wooden poles cannot be greatly depended upon for a period greater than 15 years, though the redwood poles installed along the lines of the transcontinental railroads west of the Rocky Mountains have in many instances given a life up to 35 years, and are still said to be in good condition; but these poles are set into a soil strongly impregnated with alkali in a country where rains are few and the air generally dry. Nothing is known as yet of the life of the galvanized-iron tower except from windmill practice, where towers which have been galvanized after all punching and machining is done are found to be in good condition after a period of 10 to 15 years.

The cross-arms in use are almost invariably made of pine without treatment other than painting. These arms are let into the pole from 1 to 2 in., being held by bolts through the pole and arm, and when long are additionally supported by braces. Even with steel poles wooden arms are used, the general feeling being that there is less probability of the circuit being completely disabled should an insulator break and the line fall, if it falls upon a wooden rather than a steel arm. At the same time an experiment in the use of wooden braces has not been found to result in any certain advantage. In consequence, flat galvanized-iron braces established a number of years ago as standard by the telegraph and telephone companies are now almost universally employed in the construction of transmission lines. With increase in spans and voltages the insulators are increasing in size. This condition will probably in the future demand a strength of arm greater than can be obtained by the use of wood. This problem, however, has not as yet obtained a definite solution.

For plants operating below 25,000 volts much use has been made of glass as a material for insulators. Glass has been for many years the standard insulator material in American telegraph and telephone practice, and in spite of many experiments that have been tried with porcelain, it is still considered the best and cheapest material for this service. However, in transmission work one of the great advantages claimed for glass in telephone and telegraph practice disappears. The engineers of these companies claim that it is important to provide against dark, narrow spaces within the insulators on account of the fact that they form the homes of insects. The transparency of the glass largely obviates this difficulty. Where large insulators are used such as are employed by transmission companies, the spaces within the insulators are well lighted from below, and the transparency of the material is not important. Glass is comparatively fragile, and for transmission work it has nothing to recommend it except low first cost and cheap inspection; these, to be sure, are very often overpowering advantages when the voltage is low enough for the particular form of insulator used to provide a large factor of safety, and in consequence up to 15,000 volts glass insulators are generally preferred unless there are special climatic conditions which render them liable to fracture. Many series of tests have shown conclusively that the porcelain insulator has a greater mechanical strength, is less liable to surface leakage, has a safe dielectric strength, and in addition that it is exceedingly difficult to break the head of a porcelain insulator so as to allow the wire to fall away from it. The one disadvantage of porcelain is that there is an uncertainty as to its solidity, and that it is only possible to ascertain its solidity by most careful high-voltage tests. The question of the form of high-voltage insulator as yet is in high dispute, operating engineers being inclined to a design where the petticoats are very long and comparatively close together, so that great creep