PRIMGHAR – A standing room-only crowd of perhaps 35 worried landowners were jammed into a 20′ by 30′ foot long O’Brien County supervisor’s chambers on May 6 to listen to another lengthy discussion about a proposed 345,000 volt (345 kV) MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC) transmission substation. Prior to the Board’s April 29th meeting, only one substation was a huge issue, now there are two.
Present at this May 6th supervisors meeting to discuss their role in this new 345 kV substation and the proposed MEC 345 kV, MVP #3 transmission line project were representatives from E. C Source & Environmental Energy Group (EEG).
MEC said that in a competitive bid process conducted last year, E C Source, and their subsidiaries EEG and T & D Power (TDP), won the construction contract for this estimated $480 million of new electrical infrastructure.
Camille Charlesworth, Environmental Manager for EEG sent a letter last week to O’Brien County Auditor Barb Rohwer requesting information on how EEG should properly file applications for construction permits with the County. Charlesworth requested time to visit with the Board at their May 6th meeting. Others present with EEG were Peter Demars, Vice President E C Source, Senior Project Manager and Shaun Ownings, Assistant Project Manager, EC Source’s Substation Group.
What’s so unusual was seeing so many farmers shut down tractors and planters during a late and hectic planting season to listen to the Board’s early discussions about these issues.
Present in the crowd was Daryl Haack the O’Brien County Landowners Association president. Standing in the doorway listening was O’Brien County Attorney Micah Schreurs and Tisha Halvorson, the attorney for Kevin and Jen Mars, stood outside the door behind Schreurs.
As Charlesworth approached the supervisors chambers door this past Tuesday exactly at 9:00 A. M., she looked somewhat apprehensive about entering a room crowded with hostile farmers to visit with the Board about the proposed MEC projects. To wit, Charlesworth had no advanced warning of a churning and growing storm.
“We’ve got three maps in front of you that show the outline of what the actual construction will be.” Holding up a map, Charlesworth continued, “On this map it shows the actual outline of where the substation will be in reference to the surroundings nearby. And the 3rd map shows how the transmission line is going to be linked to the actual substation. What the substation will do is act as a switchyard for transferring power from the existing transmission line, so we’re just connecting the two transmission lines.”
Rohwer asked, “So, do you have something that shows what it’ll look like?”
“We can get you that,” said Demars. “It will be above grade drawings. We don’t have anything with us. We’ll get that to you.”
“Are you connecting on to the other line?” DeBoom asked.
“Right, our line is coming in from the east to the west and the other line goes from the southwest to the northeast,” said Charlesworth.
Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen probed EEG’s managers to satisfy his suspicions that this project wasn’t directly linked to the 500 MW MEC wind farm project under construction. Friedrichsen thinks that one project is dependent on the other.
However, Invenergy has had the Highland wind farm project under development since 2003. Unless early Invenergy project developers were remarkably clairvoyant and could accurately predict this project 10 years into the future, the MEC MVP #3 project and the Highland wind farm project are nothing but extraordinarily coincidental in nature.
“My question is; I think it’s obvious that if the wind farm weren’t coming in here, this substation wouldn’t be needed, right?” Friedrichsen speculated.
Demars replied, “This substation is a switchyard for our connection from a new transmission line that’s being built onto an existing 345 kV line.”
“Would this substation have been built without the wind farm project then?” Friedrichsen asked, point blank.
“My understanding is that this substation was planned regardless of the wind farm being built,” Demars affirmed.
Supervisors Tom Farnsworth, Dan Friedrichsen, Jim DeBoom and auditor Rohwer asked repeated questions trying to get a feel of how close the facility will be to the Keith Groendyke residence on Startling Ave, about 800 feet to the north.
Probably perceiving which way this discussion was headed, Demars insisted, “Let me just interject here. We’re not representing MEC here at this meeting. Our responsibility is to get the building permits for this 20-acre property. So, some of these questions are probably better directed at MEC because we are not representing them. We’re just representing E C Source and our commitment, contractually, to go ahead and get the building permits.”
“So then, who is building this substation?” Farnsworth asked. “Is it you guys?”
“We’re building this for MidAmerican,” Demars affirmed. “We have a contract with them. We aren’t the ones responsible for securing the property. We aren’t MidAmerican.”
“MidAmerican bought it. I understand that,” said Farnsworth. “Jim and I discussed re-doing the ordinance as a building permit for power stations because we are not zoned. I don’t know, but Micah, can that be done?” Farnsworth asked of the county attorney still in the doorway. “Can we do that or not?”
Schreurs replied, “You are asking me about doing it retroactively.”
“Well, we can’t go retroactive. I’m talking about this site up here in Lincoln Township. So, to me, to approve this now, I’m not really ready to pass this construction permit request,” Farnsworth reiterated.
“Is there anyone here at all representing MidAmerican Energy?” asked DeBoom.
DeBoom was clearly concerned that nobody from MidAmerican Energy directly was present at this crucial first meeting to explain the huge scope of this MVP #3 project.
“There is not,” replied Charlesworth.
Demars then explained in even greater detail, “We have five of these substation projects along the route to work on for the actual construction. We are ignorant as to what the local politics are here. We’re just completing our requirements.”
“But the thing to me is looking at some of these sites, you’d think the substation would go further back into the property and not going in but 150′ feet from the road,” said Farnsworth.
“We’re not in a position to look for logic of where there may or may not be any. We are not part of planning it,” said Demars once again. “We will definitely advise MidAmerican that we have an issue right now. So it isn’t imperative that this substation permit be approved today.”
Trying to visualize how the new configuration of 345 kV power lines in the west half of Section 21 will eventually look isn’t easy for the supervisors and the auditor.
“We can’t take any action here today,” said Friedrichsen.
“I’d still like to get together with Micah and discuss this building ordinance more,” said Farnsworth.
“What exactly do you need from the Board? What’s your timeframe?” Rohwer asked of the EEG officials.
“We have two issues here. Clearly one imperative is the nearby property owners that will have to be addressed. We need two to three months notice. This substation is the last one we are going to come to,” Demars explained. “That projected activity, the actual grading activity starts in November, if not late October after the growing season.
DeBoom asked why the substation was located at this point along the line. “MEC located the substation where they have it shown to catch the existing line and then capture the potential new generation that’s eventually going to be connected on,” Demars explained. “And that’s probably their thought process.”
Farnsworth said, “Let’s get Micah and see what his opinion is on what we need. I’m not for sure we can do an amendment for structures.”
“MEC is going to be contacting you. That conversation will go wherever it goes,” Demars stated.”
“Well, we’d like to see MEC come out and talk to us and with Keith about this. Keep in contact with him. He ‘s the one that’s harmed,” said Farnsworth.
Keith Groendyke entered the conversation and said, “A year ago MEC said they were going to come out and talk to me. But, they didn’t come. They are slippery.”
“Who are you working with?” Rohwer asked.
“E C Source,” replied Demars.
“Who at MEC are you working with?” Rohwer meant to ask.
“Steve Ambrose,” replied Demars. “He’s the project manager for MEC.”
DeBoom then turned to EEG’s Demars and asked, “Will you contact MEC about these Lincoln Township issues?”
“Oh, sure,” Demars reassured Board Chairman DeBoom.
(MidAmerican Substations Saga Part IV will reveal how two significant developments between April 29th and May 6th caused the landowners in the Highland wind farm substation area to ask the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors to file an injunction against MEC. Dirt work at the site is already well under way and residents want that stopped.)
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