Local resistance to a proposed 345-kilovolt transmission line that would run through the heart of Jackson County bubbled to the surface during a public meeting last week in Jackson.
Concerns voiced by members of the public ranged from environmental to health, with several expressing outright opposition to the line some say is key to the future of wind energy development in southern Minnesota.
“I don’t want it, and I’m sure 99 percent of the other people around me don’t want it either,” said Mark Whisney, who owns land in Belmont Township directly in the path of one of the proposed line routes. “They talk alternative routes; I don’t want any route. The way it sounds, nobody wants it.”
Whisney’s land is at ground zero of one of two routes proposed by transmission line company ITC Midwest. The century farm on which Ian DeVine lives is right along the other.
“I have unregistered native prairie ground and nesting grounds for bald eagles,” he said. “It’s pristine ground; nobody wants (a transmission line) there.”
DeVine also raised the issue of health problems often associated with the radiation emitted from high-voltage lines, telling those gathered last Wednesday he is especially concerned about the well-being of a 90-year-old neighbor.
“You can’t have lines like this running that close to a 90-year-old,” DeVine said.
Helen Murphy of nearby Sherburn agreed, telling those gathered radiation emitted within the electric-magnetic field surrounding high-voltage lines has been shown to cause cancer and other health issues, especially in the young and unborn. She said she is shocked the Minnesota Department of Health has not been asked to weigh in on the proposed transmission line.
Last Wednesday’s hearing was hosted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, one of two state agencies assisting the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in considering granting a permit for construction of the line. The other assisting agency is the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.
Last week’s round of hearings, scheduled for the purpose of receiving public comment on the draft environmental impact statement, was the second chance for the public to weigh in on the proposed line. The final opportunity will be during a contested case hearing May 13-14 in front of an administrative law judge who will make a recommendation to the commission.
In addition to grabbing the attention of many locals, the proposed project has also drawn plenty of outside interest. Representatives of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs and Minnesota’s own Clean Up the River Environment made local media stops prior to the hearing last week to raise awareness of the necessity of transmission lines to the growth of the rural-based wind industry.
“We see wind as a renewable, drought-resistant crop that has infused the local area with a lot of economic activity,” said Lu Nelsen of the Center for Rural Affairs. “But we need to get that crop to market – to keep this going we need a good, reliable road. That’s the transmission line.”
But Red Wing attorney Carol Overland, energy consultant on transmission, power plants, wind and nuclear waste, is not convinced of the necessity of the proposed line.
“This is not about need,” he said. “This is about want and desire. …This line isn’t needed under the laws of the state of Minnesota.”
Need is a key driver of how far the permit application goes. In fact, hearing host Ray Kirsch of the commerce department said without a finding of necessity by the public utilities commission, no route permit can be issued.
Officials with ITC Midwest say they would not have proposed the line if the need for it weren’t dire. In its application, the company states the line will increase wind generation outlet capacity, relieve heavy loading on the existing system and provide cost-effective delivery of energy.
In addition to the line, the project would also include an expansion of the Lakefield Junction substation.
Public comments on the draft environmental impact statement will be accepted through May 9. Comments on the project in general will be accepted May 13-30. The commission is expected to render a final decision this fall.
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