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Energy route topic of meeting  

Central Minnesotans will have another chance to weigh in on a proposed high-voltage transmission line that would run from Monticello to Fargo.

The CapX 2020 project is sponsoring another series of public meetings next week in cities along the corridor, including Clearwater and Melrose.

By then, landowners should be able to see whether the proposed line might touch their property.

Xcel Energy and 10 other utilities in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin are asking the state Public Utilities Commission to approve the project, which includes four new transmission lines.

One would run generally along Interstate Highway 94 from Monticello to Fargo, cutting through the St. Cloud area. Two others would run across southern Minnesota and from the Twin Cities to Rochester and La Crosse, Wis.

A fourth line, to be built later, would run from Bemidji to Grand Rapids.

No specific locations have been proposed yet. But after gathering public input at meetings along the corridor last fall, officials have been mapping sensitive areas such as wetlands and prime farmland.

They expect to have maps available at next week’s meetings of the myriad of possible routes the transmission lines could take.

“This is going to be a series of trade-offs, and people need to help us understand what those trade-offs are,” said Darrin Lahr, Xcel permitting and siting supervisor.

Xcel officials say the project is needed to meet growing demand for electricity and to provide more transmission of renewable energy such as wind power. They also say it will increase the reliability of the local electric system in some key population areas, including St. Cloud and Alexandria.

Plans call for adding a substation in southwest St. Cloud to provide better backup if the main transmission line into the St. Cloud area fails, Lahr said. Because of population growth and growing demand for electricity, there are concerns about how reliable the system will be beyond 2011, he said.

The Monticello-to-Fargo line is expected to cost $350 million to $500 million. The average residential customer’s electric bill is expected to increase by about $2 a month.

Those who attended last fall’s meetings provided a range of comments, including asking that the transmission line avoid cutting through farmland, the scenic Avon Hills area and the St. John’s University campus.

Lahr noted that following I-94, rather than cutting through the countryside, makes sense for several reasons. It’s the shortest distance between Monticello and Fargo, and the line already would have to connect to substations at St. Cloud and Alexandria.

“There’s a lot of things that say, ‘Look at the freeway,’ ” he said.

Xcel officials expect to file an application this summer or fall with the Public Utilities Commission for a route permit.

More hearings will be scheduled to gather public input on the potential route, Lahr said.

A PUC decision on whether the project is needed is expected early next year, he said.

A decision on the final route might not come until 2010.

By Kirsti Marohn

St. Cloud Times

12 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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