Medina takes interest in Hollydale line

Medina residents have been expressing to City Hall their concerns about proposed upgrades to the Hollydale power transmission line by Xcel Energy and Great River Energy.

Would the upgraded line come close to their homes, affect their health and require removal of trees? Could the power companies choose a route away from their homes? Could the power line be kept away from County Road 24? Could it be kept away from Medina Road?

And what could the power companies do to satisfy Medina’s growing appetite for electrical power?

The Target store on Highway 55 has experienced four power outages since June 2012, according to Medina City Administrator Scott Johnson. The city has experienced 25 power outages since June 2008.

City Councilor Elizabeth Weir has learned that some residents of Gramercy Club of Elm Creek, located east of Target, are nervous about riding in elevators there because of power outages.

So the city of Medina has been facing a quandary about what it can do to assist its citizens with their concerns — considering that different parts of its body of citizens don’t agree with each other.

The Medina City Council Tuesday, Nov. 20, found a potential way out of the quandary. The council asked city staff to explore the possibility of Medina becoming a formal participant in the public proceedings. City Councilors got the idea from Michael Kaluzniak, of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, as he explained the public process that the PUC is going through before it makes decisions on the Hollydale project.

Kaluzniak said that Medina has until Jan. 30 to apply to become a formal participant in the proceedings.

According to the Xcel Energy website, Xcel and Great River Energy are proposing transmission improvements and a substation addition in Plymouth and Medina “to better serve current customers and meet expected electricity load growth.”

The original proposal would involve Xcel Energy rebuilding approximately eight miles of existing 69-kilovolt (kV) transmission line to 115 kV, constructing almost a mile of new 115 kV transmission line and building a new 115 kV substation (called the Pomerleau Lake Substation). Great River Energy would modify its Medina Substation on Willow Drive south of County Road 24. These improvements would address electric distribution concerns and avoid feeder circuit overloads in the Plymouth area distribution delivery system and provide increased distribution capacity in the Plymouth-Medina area.

In Medina, the original proposal called for the power line route to, for the most part, follow the route of the current power line. However, during the public approval process more than a dozen alternate and sub routes have been submitted to the PUC, said Medina Planner Dusty Finke.

These multiple proposed routes have the potential to “pit neighbor against neighbor,” said Mayor Tom Crosby. He wanted to avoid this and said Medina should not take a stand on a specific route. As a formal participant in the proceedings, Medina could make it possible for ideas and concerns of its citizenry to reach the ears of PUC. And the city could keep citizens posted about what is happening during the lengthy approval process and opportunities for them to comment.

Crosby also reiterated the stand that Medina took in letters to PUC. The most recent letter, dated Nov. 9, asked the power companies to bury the transmission lines “if they are within 300 feet of residences at the cost of the utility provider, or shift the easement to avoid such proximity.”

Kaluzniak said some of the proposed routes would make the distribution system longer than 10 miles. This and the huge amount of public interest have triggered a more complicated approval process. Under the original proposal, Xcel and Great River Energy could apply for a route permit from PUC. Now the power companies must submit a certificate of need and go through environmental impact assessments. After successfully accomplishing these requirements, Xcel and Great River can apply for a route permit.

Alternative routes must be vetted through the environmental assessments, he said. Any burying of transmission lines would be considered to be a mitigation of environmental impacts.

The public approval process includes some important dates. Public and evidentiary hearings are expected to happen in spring 2013. PUC is expected to make a certificate decision in summer or fall 2013. Meanwhile, Medina has plans for updating residents on what is happening via the city newsletter, newspaper stories and the city website at ci.medina.mn.us. Information also is available on the Xcel Energy and Minnesota Department of Commerce websites.

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