MANKATO – An administrative law judge has recommended Xcel Energy build a proposed power line project to the west of Greater Mankato along existing power lines through Minneopa State Park.
Judge Barbara Case wrapped up a report to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Wednesday concerning the project, which would connect Xcel’s Wilmarth substation northeast of Mankato to the ITC Midwest-owned Huntley Substation near Blue Earth.
The 345-kilowatt line would run about 50 miles and would help move power from wind energy projects throughout the Midwest.
The commission will take Case’s report into consideration before deciding which route is best and approving a construction permit later this year.
In her recommendation, Case wrote the westernmost route would have the least impact to residents and animal life as more than half of it would run along existing power lines. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had opposed another of five potential routes, and local government officials in Mankato and North Mankato were concerned any other route would run through future residential neighborhoods.
Area residents were particularly outspoken against the westernmost route at a public hearing in Mankato in February. Though energy experts and the utilities companies say the Huntley-Wilmarth project is necessary to keep electricity moving, most of the people who spoke said the project would hurt farmers and could potentially affect nearby residents’ health.
One resident from Verona Township said the westernmost route would cut through her property. 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.
Case acknowledged her comments, as well as comments from residents at other public hearings on the project.
“Any routing decision the Commission makes will have negative impacts on those whom the line passes by and, to greater and lesser extents, on the agricultural and natural environments, including flora and fauna,” Case wrote. “Negative impacts cannot be entirely avoided, but neither can the need for additional transmission capacity if congestion is to be relieved and the growth of renewable generation accommodated.”
North Mankato City Administrator John Harrenstein said the recommendation is a good sign. Two of the potential routes would have cut through the western portion of the city where 183 future homes are planned. And a route that would have run east of Mankato would have cut into Eagle Lake, through land planned for more residential and commercial development since 2006.
“Essentially, this line’s been moved outside of the growth area for both communities,” Harrenstein said.
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