MANKATO, Minn. – Area residents and city officials shared their concerns about a proposed Xcel Energy power line project during a public hearing put on by state utilities officials Feb. 27.
The project, proposed by Xcel and ITC Midwest, would connect Xcel’s Wilmarth substation northeast of Mankato to the ITC Midwest-owned Huntley Substation near Blue Earth, which would move power from wind energy projects in the Midwest. The 345-kilowatt line would run about 50 miles.
Though energy experts and the utilities companies say the Huntley-Wilmarth project is necessary to keep electricity moving, most of the people who spoke a the public hearing said the project would hurt farmers, potentially cause health issues, and mess with proposed residential and industrial developments already in the works.
Although a draft environmental impact statement on the project said the power line would have minimal impacts on public health, several residents were concerned the line could cause cancer or deformities for nearby residents.
June Davis of Verona Township said she and her husband planned to build a house on property the westernmost route would cut through, making it impossible to build. She also said despite inconclusive studies on the effects of power lines on public health, she didn’t want her grandchildren to be “guinea pigs” for future experiments.
Representatives from Mankato and North Mankato argued that other routes, which cut closer to the Greater Mankato area, would wreak havoc on already agreed upon development deals.
North Mankato officials said 183 future homes are planned in the north and west portion of the city, including the North Ridge neighborhood and the Northport Industrial Park, which several of the proposed routes runs through.
Mankato officials made similar arguments for an eastern route that partially cuts into Eagle Lake. Community Development Director Paul Vogel said 766 acres had been sold for development near both cities since 2006 with 322 acres already under development.
“As you can appreciate, much formalized planning has been done in this area,” Vogel told state officials. “In response there’s a significant amount of public and private investment, none of which contemplated a high-voltage transmission line bisecting the area.”
Not everyone was opposed to the project, however. Bob Schroeder of Lake Crystal encouraged state officials to run the line along the westernmost route, using existing power poles. Though some residents worried the lines would affect farmland, Schroeder said he’s farmed around power line poles that cut through his land for decades with little issue.
Merlin Zarn, another farmer who testified, said the project would likely be good for the area.
“I think we need the power line here,” he said.
The project has been in the works since 2009, when energy experts saw a need for more power lines in the area as an increasing number of wind projects cleared state, national and international regulations.
Once the project’s public comment period ends March 15, Administrative Law Judge Barbara CaseCase will submit recommendations to the Public Utilities Commission by mid-April. The project’s environmental impact statement will also be finalized. The commission is expected to decide on the best power line route later this summer.
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