NORTH MANKATO – The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission gave the final go-ahead on Thursday for an Xcel Energy power line project from Mankato to Blue Earth – or at least most of it.
Commissioners signed off on a route permit for the so-called Huntley-Wilmarth project with the exception of a four-square-mile patch of land west of Vernon Center Township on the eastern edge of Ceresco Township.
Instead, thanks to concerns raised by Commissioner John Tuma, Xcel staff and state officials will review potential routes within that tiny patch of land to see whether an alternative route Tuma identified would work better than previously recommended routes.
The project connects 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. Last month an administrative law judge recommended a route running west of Mankato along existing power lines and south through Minneopa State Park and Blue Earth County into Martin County.
Xcel and state officials identify the chosen route as the purple route among five potential routes the power line project could have run. (See the map accompanying this story on mankatofreepress.com.)
The western route diverges slightly at the area on the eastern side of Ceresco Township, where power lines could potentially affect protected wildlife and nearby land owned by Pheasants Forever.
Several routes find ways to cross the Watonwan River near Perch Creek before moving south, but some residents in the area oppose the routes in question. One of the preferred routes follows 124th Street east and south on 507th Avenue before cutting across to Blue Earth County Road 128, where it eventually runs south on 502nd Avenue. Another cuts east along 164th Street, following the road until it becomes 502nd Avenue.
Tuma found testimony from some residents who offered a pasture the power line could cut across in between those routes. He suggested two other alternatives where the power line could follow property lines or cut through a shorter distance to reduce the effects the power line could have on nearby residents.
“If we could go down the purple route and have a conversation with these landowners to see if there’s a better route, we could do even better for the trees,” he said.
Other commissioners agreed but were concerned about adopting one of Tuma’s routes because state officials haven’t studied those suggestions or explored their environmental impact.
That’s why the PUC signed off on most of the power line but sent Xcel “back to the drawing board” on that stretch as Tom Hillstrom, a permitting agent with Xcel, puts it.
“We’re perfectly willing to do that, to see if there’s a way that we can adjust the route a little bit to minimize impacts on people,” Hillstrom said.
Construction on the power line is set to begin next spring.
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.
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