Commission OKs CapX applicationState officials on Thursday accepted the route application for proposed high voltage transmission lines that will stretch through Goodhue County, though they did acknowledge the large CapX2020 project likely will generate concerns and that at least one citizens advisory task force needs to be involved.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
State officials on Thursday accepted the route application for proposed high voltage transmission lines that will stretch through Goodhue County, though they did acknowledge the large CapX2020 project likely will generate concerns and that at least one citizens advisory task force needs to be involved.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered Office of Energy Security staff to bring them a plan for setting up a citizen's advisory task force that will outline local issues and concerns that should be tackled in an environmental report, including issues with running the lines across the Mississippi River.
"That is a reasonably decent outcome," said Red Wing attorney Carol Overland, who represents No CapX2020 and United Citizens Action Network, two groups of landowners that that project will affect.
Overland participated in the meeting via telephone and has filed a petition on behalf of the groups to intervene in the route application process, giving them the right to provide testimony, cross examine witnesses and file motions in the matter.
CapX is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota that want to extend power lines as tall as 170 feet from a new substation near Hampton, Minn., through Cannon Falls and Pine Island into northern Olmsted County and across the Mississippi River to La Crosse, Wis.
Proponents say expanding the region's electric transmission grid is necessary to meet increasing demand caused by population and job growth. Similar projects are slated for construction in other parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The PUC approved the CapX application, which establishes a preferred route traveling through Cannon Falls and Pine Island mainly along Highway 52.
CapX officials say the preferred route would have minimal impact on private property.
The alternative route cuts through western Goodhue County farmland and the rural communities of Stanton and Dennison.
OES staff suggested the PUC allow them to establish an advisory task force to address potential issues in the Pine Island area, where preferred and alternative routes for lines converge and a new substation is proposed.
The group would include Goodhue County, Olmsted County, city of Pine Island, town board and non-government representatives.
Overland and Paula Maccabee, a St. Paul attorney, urged commissioners to consider more than one citizens group because the project is so large and complex.
"To have one task force is just not sufficient," Overland said. "This is going to be a very contentious proceeding where people need to have the input and have that input taken seriously."
Commissioners agreed an advisory task force - probably more than one - was important but were unsure how to establish the groups so they were effective. They asked OES staff to research the issue and come back with options.
"Maybe there needs to be some discussion about where to break it up so one task force does not become unwieldy," Commissioner Betsy Wergin said.
While pleased with the task force decision, Overland argued Thursday the CapX application was not complete because it does not include two routes - which is required by law - for the line from beginning to end.
OES and Xcel Energy officials admit the lines overlap for about nine miles but say that is acceptable under state law and a common occurrence in projects so large.
Maccabee, a St. Paul attorney, disagreed.
"Here the area that overlaps is the area that crosses the Mississippi River, scenic areas ... and that is not a trivial or modest exception to the rule," she said. "That is exactly why two alternative routes are required."
Maccabee said the CapX applicants must thoroughly examine the benefits and costs of building the power lines underground or under-river to protect sensitive environmental resources.
An Xcel Energy official said the group has provided information on such options for a crossing near Alma, Wis., but similar possibilities for crossings in Winona and La Crescent, Minn., have not been examined.
Maccabee said Xcel Energy and other CapX officials should be required to examine underground and under-river options for all three crossings to see which is cheaper and will have the fewest environmental impacts.
"This is just not ready for prime time," she said. "I don't understand why anyone would want to go forward without knowing which is the least impactful route."
Commissioners agreed that Mississippi River concerns need to be addressed but said they would not hold up the application's approval by forcing utility officials to do more research.
"The applicants are going to present us with a package for our approval. If they have not thoughtfully considered all their options it will be their choice and it will potentially come at their peril," PUC Chairman David Boyd said. "I am not going to direct the applicants to do work they do not chose to do. I think the potential consequences are obvious."