Augusta Liddic/The Daily TimesThe $2.27 million Dwight Arthur Switching Station is one of Farmington Electric Utility System’s new projects in the
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times The $2.27 million Dwight Arthur Switching Station is one of Farmington Electric Utility System's new projects in the Navajo Dam area. (Augusta Liddic)
FARMINGTON — For Farmington Electric Utility System employees, nearly half a mile of cables crossing the northwestern arm of Navajo Lake are a symbol of one of the city's greatest accomplishments and a step into the future.

The crossing is one of six major projects to bring a more reliable and steady power supply to the Navajo Dam and Middle Mesa region at the far eastern edge of the utility's service area.

On Friday, the grey electric lines of the Pine River Crossing stood in stark contrast to the newly fallen white snow covering the ground. Landrey Skeet, an electric utility employee who worked on the project, looked eastward at the cables crossing the rippling emerald water far below.

For about seven months the utility's line crews worked to raise the cables over the lake. The job required Skeet and his co-workers to scale the sheer rock faces on each side of the lake, lifting up the new cables, each weighing between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds, into position, he said.

"It was a good experience," Skeet said. "It makes me proud to be part of something like this."

The journey began 22 years ago with a single project proposal: build a second electric cable crossing on the Pine River arm of Navajo Lake so that the region is less susceptible to power outages.

In December 1990, Gary Rollstin, then the utility's chief electrical engineer and now it's project construction manager, was working on the project.

"From my perspective, having started it 22 years ago, you just have a sigh of relief," Rollstin said. "I always hope that when people go out there, they take a look and see what we've built."

The Pine River Crossing at 2,560 feet is the utility's longest crossing, he said.

In the 22 years since beginning the project, the utility encountered numerous challenges in getting permission from the federal government for the crossing. The region contains a number of archeological sites and a fragile ecosystem, Rollstin said.

But the Pine River Crossing inspired five other projects: the Dwight Arthur Switching Station, Pine River Substation, San Juan River crossing, miles of new transmission lines and extension of electrical power to Devon and ConocoPhillips natural gas wells throughout the region.

The new switching station and substation together cost about $4.483 million. The line extension cost about $1.7 million. The electric utility will be sharing the cost of the extensions with Devon and ConocoPhillips.

The addition of natural-gas well customers represents an untapped market for the utility.

Residential customers make up only about 5-10 percent of demand in the region, said Rodney Romero, the electric utility's Transmission and Distribution manager.

The rest is made up of ConocoPhillips and Devon gas wells, he said.

The electric utility is finishing some of the line extensions to the gas wells and other areas.

Romero expects the last of the extensions to be finished by the end of 2013.

"We're a pretty small utility, but we try to be there on the technological edge," Romero said. "Normally municipalities will provide (electrical) distribution. We have all phases internally."