March 8, 2007 at 6:56 a.m.
Powerline project open house well-attended and state regulators; Xcel getting a wide range of project questions, concerns
Citizens and elected officials attending a public open house on the powerline project asked all sorts of questions and shared observations about the project being proposed. The "comment period" continues through the end of this month.
Xcel Energy is in the process of having its Certificate of Need which basically certifies that the powerline improvements are necessary for service reliability, and route permit reviewed by state regulators. The two issues are being advanced on parallel tracks.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission estimates it will be at least November before there is a decision on these.
In a nutshell the electric company wants to boost power on the existing 69 kV lines to 115 kV, and build a new sub-station near Taylors Falls, that would in turn boost the line out of that facility to 161 kV connecting to the Wisconsin network. Pole replacements, new capacity wires, enlarging the Lindstrom substation and other system enhancements are also part of the project. (Where steel poles are proposed, the product would be galvanized and not the "rusty" metal supports visible along County Road #19, for example.)
Earlier we reported the line would be installed underground in Taylors Falls from about Cherry Hill Park to the hydro-electric dam. It was clarified by Xcel last week that due to new geologic information, the line near the river will come above-ground. There's a wetland on the west edge of the river surrounded by basalt rock that Xcel officials said can not be crossed below-ground. The company will use "H" frames to carry the line across to the St. Croix Falls dam.
Residents attending the open house in the Lindstrom Community Center Feb. 27 threw questions at Jim Alders and Tom Hillstrom, from Xcel, expressing preferences for undergrounding in particular.
Lindstrom Council member Angelo Rew asked about cost estimates for burying the line through Lindstrom. He was told Xcel has no estimates at this time, but Alders said the general rule is that burying runs five to seven times the cost of traditional overhead installations.
Alders added, "We know this is on the city's mind, and we'll work with Lindstrom to examine this in the context of how it affects other services (also along the line) like telephone, cable and our distribution (capabilities)." The Xcel people said transmission lines can be buried but the lines going off this (distribution) required the detailed review.
Alders said he encourages people to comment on undergrounding during the comment period and the required state review will take those comments into account. "We are just at the start of what could be a nine to 12 month process," Alders continued. "We thought we'd wait to hear (these comments) then do the detailed research needed."
Residents were concerned about pole placements, pole material (wood versus steel) and the proposed increases in height. They were assured the concerns will be analyzed. "That's why we're here, to listen to your concerns," Alders stated.
Developer Scott Thompson asked about electro-magnetic fields and electro-emissions. He has new home construction planned in the area along the project on the west side of Lindstrom and said he wants to be able to allay concerns of potential new home buyers, adding he'd like the line buried.
A couple of Lindstrom residents also expressed concerns about the poles close to their dwellings. They asked Xcel and regulators to investigate re-routing the line so there wouldn't be bigger and taller pole structures put in the same spot, and to consider a route that could skirt downtown and go through "the country."
Representatives of the Concerned River Valley Citizens' group, a grassroots delegation that successfully opposed a new Xcel powerline several years ago, also expressed concerns for-the-record. The CRVC wants the environmental review to take into consideration "visual impacts" of the line in particular open or protected spaces, along with other issues.
Powerline legal specialist hired by Lindstrom, attorney Carol Overland, submitted a list of impacts to be evaluated in context of this line enhancement.
According to the information at the public open house, Xcel works with the Department of Commerce in these first stages of regulatory reviewal. The Dept. of Commerce oversees the review through the administrative law hearing process and then packages all that's transpired and transfers the final approval or denial to the Public Utilities Commission. (See chart.)
To direct comments on the environmental review and creation of the Environmental Impact Statement send written or electronic messages to Sharon Ferguson at the Dept. of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500 in St. Paul, MN 55101-2198. E mail is [email protected].
Routing concerns or suggestions for optional corridors go to David Birkholz, at the same mailing address. His e mail is [email protected].
Deadline for submitting comments is March 30.