The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Thursday, March 7, heard numerous members of the public speaking in opposition to a proposed high voltage 115 kilovolt (kV) Hollydale power transmission line running through Medina and Plymouth and in favor of a 13.8 kV alternative.
The March 7 afternoon hearing was the second of two sessions in which PUC collected public comments on the certificate of need for the Hollydale 115 kV power line proposed by Xcel Energy and Great River Energy. The hearings took place at the Medina Entertainment Center in Medina. The power line would affect residents and businesses in two cities. But most speakers at the March 7 hearing were Plymouth residents — many of them connected with the Western Plymouth Neighborhood Alliance.
Many speakers asked that Xcel Energy construct “Alternative A2” instead of the proposed 115kV line. Alternative A2 would include construction of a new 115/13.8 kV substation, located similarly to the Pomerleau Lake Substation proposed in the Hollydale project, and construction of six new 13.8 kV distribution lines. The new substation would be fed from Great River Energy’s existing 115 kV Parkers Lake – Plymouth transmission line.
Xcel Energy and Great River Energy propose to remove approximately eight miles of an existing Great River Energy-owned 69 kV overhead transmission line and to construct a new 115 kV overhead transmission line in its place. The proposal also calls for constructing an additional eight-tenths of a mile of new 115 kV overhead transmission line, constructing the new Pomerleau Lake substation in Plymouth, and modifying associated transmission facilities in Medina and Plymouth.
The Hollydale power line project would begin at the substation located near Willow Drive and Highway 55 in Medina and connect with the existing Hollydale substation and the new Pomerleau Lake substation in Plymouth. Both the Medina and Hollydale substations would be upgraded to handle 115 kV of electrical power.
The proposed Hollydale project has been going through a complicated approval process spanning a couple of years. The March 6 and 7 certificate of need hearings were amongst many opportunities for public comment. Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman presided over the hearings. He is continuing to receive comments on the certificate of need for the high voltage Hollydale project until 4:30 p.m. Monday, March 25. Address them to him at P.O. Box 64620, 600 N. Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620 or e-mail him at [email protected] Include the PUC docket number – E-002.ET2/CN-12-113 and the OAH docket number — 8-2500-23147-2.
After collecting public comments, Judge Lipman will make a recommendation to the PUC as to whether the 115kV Hollydale project is needed.
At the March 7 certificate of need hearing, Medina residents sat in the audience and listened to Plymouth residents speaking before Judge Lipman. All of the resident speakers talked about their fears of environmental harm resulting from the presence of a high voltage power transmission line — harm to children’s’ health, wildlife, wetlands, property values and views of woods and wetlands from their homes.
Barry Altman, a self-employed engineer and member of the Western Plymouth Neighborhood Alliance (WPNA), said his home is 27 feet from the proposed high voltage transmission line. The magnetic fields surrounding the line would encroach into his living room and bedroom and permeate his house. He expressed concern about residents who would be exposed to high levels of magnetic radiation.
Altman said he and his wife thought they had moved into a perfect area on a cul-de-sac. They live near Walnut Grove Pond, home to egrets, ducks and muskrats. The power line would traverse wetlands, and trees would be pruned or removed. If Xcel Energy proceeds with the 115kV project, he would lose $40,000 in property value. He would ask the company to buy his house.
Jeff Minea, who is a realtor, said he and his wife paid “a premium” for the wooded views from their home. He said a high voltage power line would be compatible with an industrial but not a residential area and it should not be in a residential setting. He asked Xcel to bury its power distribution lines underground to protect residential areas.
Another resident said both Plymouth Creek and Kimberly Lane Elementary Schools are within a mile of the proposed 115 kV line. She expressed concern about health effects on children and teachers and asked for an alternate route away from schools and established neighborhoods.
Several speakers said the proposed high voltage line would cross over trails and parks and expose users to magnetic radiation while enjoying baseball and other outdoor recreation.
Lynn Zook, of Plymouth, talked about loss of property values. She said she did not want to hand over 10 to 40 percent of her property value to “a high profit company.” She contended that Xcel Energy wants “a legal stamp of approval” to “steal from us,” and this would be “morally wrong.”
Paula Maccabee, attorney for the Western Plymouth Neighborhood Alliance, said the proposed Hollydale 115 kV line has potential for significant environmental effects. She asked that the A2 low voltage alternative be chosen to avoid environmental harm.
Paul Lehman, regulatory manager for Xcel Energy, explained why his company was proposing the Hollydale power line. He said feeder circuits for the Medina/Plymouth area have been overloading over long distances. His company has exhausted reasonable solutions to the problem and now is looking at how to serve the area “reliably and safely.”
He expected the certificate of need and route approval processes to be completed in 2014 and construction to be completed in 2016.
Lehman explained that the certificate of need process through the PUC is required only for 115 kV power lines and above and for power lines longer than 10 miles. PUC might possibly say that the proposed high voltage is not needed and Xcel Energy could choose a lower voltage alternative. Power lines carrying lower voltages do not require a certificate of need and certificate of need proceedings then would end. Xcel Energy would have to decide what to do next.
Asked who would pay for constructing a power line underground, Lehman said that would depend upon why the power line is being buried. If undergrounding were to be part of a construction project related to an airport, the cost would be considered to be part of the cost of the project. If undergrounding would be intended to “mitigate the desires of a community,” costs would be paid by all the customers.
“We’re a long ways from deciding,” Lehman said. Undergrounding would a separate decision of the regulatory commission. And all Xcel Energy rates are subject to PUC approval.