Will public hearings on the proposed Hollydale 115 kV high voltage power transmission line take place as scheduled on March 6 and 7 at the Medina Entertainment Center?
As of Friday afternoon, March 1, the answer to that question was uncertain, thanks to actions of four Medina/ Plymouth area state senators and Xcel Energy.
Mike Kalusniak, of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said Friday afternoon, March 1, that the PUC was planning to hold hearings on the certificate of need for the power line as scheduled, unless Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman directs the commission to continue the public hearings to another date.
The proposed Hollydale project of Xcel Energy/ Great River Energy has been going through a complicated approval process spanning a couple of years. Residents and business owners in both Plymouth and Medina have expressed their concerns about the power transmission upgrades because the high voltage transmission line is proposed to travel through both cities.
The next scheduled round of comment has included public hearings on the certificate of need and related environmental report, set for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 6 and 1:30 p.m., Thursday, March 7 at the Grand Ballroom of the Medina Entertainment Center, 500 Highway 55, Medina.
Then in rapid fashion, four area state senators and Xcel Energy threw uncertainty into the approval process. Four area state senators — Terri Bonoff (DFL, Minnetonka), Ann Rest (DFL, New Hope), Warren Limmer (R, Maple Grove) and David Osmek (R, Mound) on Monday, Feb. 25 introduced Senate Bill S.F. No. 716 which directly affects the proposed Hollydale high voltage power line. In response to introduction of the bill, Xcel Energy, Wednesday, Feb. 27, asked Judge Lipman to order a continuance of the certificate of need hearing to another date.
The approval process for the Hollydale project has been forging ahead on two paths. The PUC has jurisdiction over the certificate of need process which normally is invoked when a power transmission line is proposed for distance of 10 miles or more. Originally, the Hollydale proposal spanned a shorter distance, but residents and business owners in Medina and Plymouth proposed alternate routes. Some of them would traverse more than 10 miles. So the certificate of need process went into effect for the Hollydale Project.
The certificate of need process is the first path of approval.
The second path falls under the purview of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which has been looking at proposed routes for the Hollydale power line. Xcel Energy and Great River Energy proposed one route, but residents and businesses in Plymouth and Medina proposed 12 alternate routes.
Senate Bill 716 essentially says, “Hold it. Hold it.” regarding the routing proceedings. The bill requires that the pending proceeding for the routing permit be suspended until the PUC determines whether the transmission line is needed.
The Senate bill says about the certificate of need, “The certificate of need may be approved only if the commission finds by clear and convincing evidence that there is no feasible and available distribution level alternative to the transmission line.”
After looking at the Senate bill and consulting with her clients, Mara Koeller, attorney for Xcel Energy, wrote to Judge Lipman on Feb. 27 and asked for a continuance of the March 6 and 7 certificate of need hearings.
Normally, it takes 10 days for a judge to rule on a request of this type, PUC’s Kalusniak said. He was not prepared to speculate what would happen with less than eight days notice.
Xcel Attorney Koeller said in her letter to Judge Lipman, “If enacted, this bill would change the review process for the Certificate of Need for the Hollydale Project. Given the uncertainties surrounding this pending legislation and its potential impact on Applicants’ Certificate of Need request, Applicants believe there is good cause to continue the proceeding.”
Xcel Energy requested that the Certificate of Need proceeding be continued “until the legislation is acted upon by the Governor or until it becomes apparent that a route over 10 miles in length may be selected by the Commission,” Koeller said in her letter.
The PUC has on its web site a list of documents that have been filed pertaining to the Hollydale project. If Judge Lipman orders a continuance of the public hearings originally scheduled for March 6 and 7, his order will appear on this list. Anyone considering a visit to the public hearing should check this list before heading out to Highway 55. The list is available at https://www.edockets.state.mn.us/EFiling/edockets/searchDocuments.do?method=eDocketsResult&docketYear=12&docketNumber=113.