Legislature passes Hollydale law

PUC still deciding if high voltage power line is needed

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) scheduled a May 22 status conference to decide next steps in the application of Xcel Energy to construct a high voltage 115 kilovolt (kV) electric power transmission line in Plymouth and Medina.

The status conference took place after Governor Mark Dayton, on May 13, signed legislation relating to Xcel’s proposed Hollydale power line. Both houses of the state legislature passed a bill on May 8, with state representatives voting 76 to 55 in favor and state senators voting 61 to 0 in favor. State legislators crafted companion bills after residents of both cities expressed fears about potential environmental hazards of the proposed Hollydale high voltage line.

This newspaper went to press prior to the PUC status conference. The agenda called for an update on actions of the Governor and state legislature and arrangements for an Aug. 29 public hearing on Xcel’s application for a certificate of need for the high voltage power line. Also on the agenda was development of a new schedule for action on Xcel’s application for a route permit for the power line.

The certificate of need proceedings relating to a high voltage line falls under PUC’s umbrella and determination of a route or routes for power distribution lines falls under the umbrella of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The legislation signed by Gov. Dayton was in the form of an amendment to state statutes related to state regulation of energy providers. The amendment says that it applies specifically to the proposed rebuilding of eight miles of 69 kV transmission lines with a high-voltage transmission line to meet local area distribution needs. This is a description of the Hollydale project.

A short paragraph contains the guts of the amendment. It says, “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.”

It goes on to say that in making its findings, the commission shall consider “cost-effectiveness, energy conservation, and the protection or enhancement of environmental quality.”

Finally, the amendment suspends further proceedings on routing of a high voltage transmission line until PUC determines that the transmission line is needed.

State legislators from the Medina/Plymouth area introduced their bills pertaining to the Hollydale power line just before public hearings that took place in March at the Medina Entertainment Center. At the hearings, most of the speakers were residents saying that, in some places, the proposed 115 kV line would be too close to homes, public parks and wildlife areas. The residents said they were concerned about potentially detrimental affects of a high voltage line on health of people and wildlife within range of the electromagnetic radiation.

Several 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.

Maps of Alternative A2 show distribution lines in Plymouth, but not in Medina.

At the March hearings 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.”

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 lower voltage alternative lines do not require a certificate of need and certificate of need proceedings would end. Then Xcel Energy would have to decide what to do next.

After the March hearings, some Medina residents said they did not receive notices of the proceedings in time for them to attend. They requested scheduling of an additional public hearing on the certificate of need for the Hollydale project. Hearings planned for Aug. 29 will give these Medina residents their chance to speak in public.

Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman collected public comments about the certificate of need for the Hollydale project via public hearings and letters from the public.

In their March 25 letter, Plymouth residents Mike, Ginny and Katie Benusa said, “Please do not allow these high voltage power lines to go through the proposed residential neighborhoods in Plymouth. The power lines in many cases will be just yards away from homes. This will affect the value of our homes not to mention the health risks associated with these lines. They have the alternative to bury the lines or else use a different route.”

The Benusa family also said, “Have the Xcel officials taken the time to walk through the neighborhoods where they plan to put the lines? If so, I can’t fathom why they could even think this would be right.”