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Studies and Reports > 2013 MN Biennial Report > Public Participation


Transmission Projects Report 2013
Chapter 4: Public Participation
 

4.0 Public Participation

4.1 General Guide to Utility Public Outreach

The Public Utilities Commission has consistently emphasized the importance of providing the public and local government officials with an opportunity to participate in transmission planning. For several years, in accordance with PUC rule part 7848.0900, the utilities held yearly public meetings across the state in each transmission planning zone to advise the public of potential transmission projects and to solicit input regarding development of alternative solutions to various inadequacies. These public meetings were poorly attended, with little input being offered. As a result, in 2008, in its Order approving the 2007 Biennial Report, the PUC granted a variance from the obligation to hold these zonal meetings. The PUC renewed the variance again in 2010 and 2012 in its Orders approving the 2009 and 2011 Biennial Reports. No zone-wide public meetings have been held since 2007.

Instead of these annual public meetings, other efforts have been undertaken to inform the public of ongoing transmission planning activities and to involve local government in the review of anticipated transmission projects. These efforts and activities have been described in previous biennial reports. They include maintaining a webpage (http://www.minnelectrans.com.) that identifies ongoing planning studies and provides links to past biennial reports. In November 2011 the MTO held a webinar explaining how transmission planning is conducted and describing the projects identified in the 2011 Biennial Report. The MTO utilities frequently meet with local government officials to discuss potential projects in their vicinities. Of course, once a project develops to the stage where a certificate of need or route permit is applied for, notice is given to a wide range of persons in accordance with PUC requirements.

In its May 18, 2012, Order approving the 2011 Biennial Report, the Commission specifically directed the MTO to undertake certain actions to improve communication with the public and local government. The Commission directed the MTO to implement the following:

· Continue to work to improve its transmission planning webpage, so as to provide a way for interested people to learn about ongoing and scheduled transmission planning studies, and subscribe to receive notices regarding studies listed on the webpage.

· Secure input on transmission planning issues from local government.

The Commission also directed the MTO to report on its activities to involve the public and local government in its transmission planning in the 2013 Biennial Report. Those efforts and activities are described below.

4.2 Transmission Planning

Before turning to specific efforts designed to solicit input from the general public and local governmental officials, it is helpful to describe how transmission planning is conducted by utilities. Much of this discussion has been included in previous biennial reports.

4.2.1 MISO Planning

For those utilities that are members of the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), much of the transmission planning that is undertaken is conducted through that organization. MISO conducts an annual transmission planning process called the MISO Transmission Expansion Planning (MTEP) process. This process begins in September, when utility members submit their newly proposed projects to MISO for planning purposes and for development of the annual MTEP report. MISO normally takes until the following July to complete the draft MTEP Report, which is usually approved by the MISO Board in December. The MISO process is explained in more detail in Chapter 6.

During this yearly planning process, MISO provides ample opportunities for the public to be involved. Interested persons and groups are able to log onto the MISO webpage and register their names to get notice about future planning meetings. MISO holds Subregional Planning Meetings (SPMs) and establishes Technical Review Groups (TRGs) that also hold meetings. These meetings are normally open to the public. Individuals can subscribe to the mailing lists maintained by the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC), which conducts high-level planning discussions, and the Planning Subcommittee (PSC), which carries out more technical evaluations and conducts more detailed study efforts about specific projects. Even if an individual does not register to get notice of a particular PAC or PSC meeting, notice of all meetings is published on the MISO website. https://www.misoenergy.org

4.2.2 MAPP Planning

Those utilities that are not part of MISO also provide opportunities for the public to be involved in their transmission planning activities through the Midcontinent Area Power Pool (MAPP). The MAPP utilities conduct their regional transmission planning through a group of engineers who make up the MAPP Transmission Planning Committee (TPC). The TPC is responsible for developing an annual MAPP regional transmission plan.

The process for developing the MAPP Regional Plan begins with the submittal of the Member Plans to the TPC through the MAPP Regional Planning Group (RPG). The MAPP Regional Plan integrates the transmission plans developed by the individual MAPP Transmission Owning Members and the RPG to meet the transmission needs in the MAPP Region of the Members and other Stakeholders on a consistent, reliable, environmentally acceptable, and economic basis. The TPC develops and approves a coordinated transmission plan, including alternatives, for the ensuing 10 years, or other planning periods specified by NERC, for all transmission facilities owned by the MAPP utilities in the MAPP Planning Region.

During this annual planning process, MAPP provides various opportunities for stakeholder involvement. Interested persons and groups are able to log onto the MAPP webpage to get notice about future planning meetings of the RPG and TPC. MAPP holds RPG and TPC meetings that are open to stakeholders. Individuals can also subscribe to the RPG mailing list for information on RPG planning meetings. The TPC is also responsible for interregional coordination through collaboration with neighboring regions.

4.3 MTO Website

The Minnesota Transmission Owners have maintained a website (www.minnelectrans.com) for several years now, on which interested persons can obtain various information about ongoing transmission planning efforts. Every Biennial Report, for example, is available on that website, as are many different transmission-related studies.

The Minnelectrans.com website is updated in each year the report is published, and information regarding webcasts and/or meetings discussing the report are posted on the home page. Additionally, there is a contact form where visitors can ask questions of utilities about projects. In 2012 and 2013 a total of six questions or comments were submitted, three of which were about projects in progress around the state. One question was from a member of the media; one question was from a realtor; and one question was from a landowner. Contact information for each project was provided to each person who submitted a question. The remaining comments were from an academic researcher and salespeople.

For the 2013 report, Minnesota Transmission Owners have developed two short videos detailing items of interest to the general public. The videos will be posted on the Minnelectrans.com website. One video describes generally how the transmission planning process is done at utilities in Minnesota. The second video describes how to read the Biennial Transmission Report and engage with transmission owning utilities.

4.4 Local Government

The Public Utilities Commission directed the MTO to include a separate section in the 2013 Biennial Report discussing outreach efforts to secure input from local governmental units. This section describes those efforts.

The MTO utilities involve local government at an early stage in the development of plans for new and upgraded transmission facilities, particularly with respect to projects designed to address local load serving issues and weather-related matters. This usually involves direct contact with both the staff of local government and with elected officials. Face-to-face meetings are often held between utility staff and city and county representatives. Open houses, to which both local representatives and the general public are invited to attend, are frequently held in the local area. These meetings and open houses often occur long before a utility has identified a specific project or route and developed a certificate of need application or a route permit application.

The reality is, however, that both the general public and local governmental officials do not generally get involved in the actual planning for new transmission facilities. Transmission planning is complex and technical. It involves electrical engineers and other trained utility experts. Planning often involves issues not directly affecting a local area that may be impacted by a new transmission line if a new line were to be proposed. It is only when a specific project is selected, with potential routes identified, that landowners and local officials begin to get involved.

Perhaps a good way to illustrate the efforts the utilities undertake to involve local government and the general public in the development of transmission projects is to describe in general terms how two of the utilities proceed to ensure that opportunities for local input are provided an early stage.

Minnesota Power. Besides participating in the open and transparent MISO transmission planning process, Minnesota Power has made a practice of conducting voluntary stakeholder outreach prior to moving forward with official permitting activities for transmission projects. In general, potentially affected landowners, local government units (LGU) and state and federal regulators will be invited to attend an open house meeting in the project area in advance of when Minnesota Power plans to actually submit the relevant permit applications for the project. This gives the public and LGUs the opportunity to hear from Minnesota Power about the need for, scope, and schedule of the project, and to provide feedback and insight about routing and siting issues particular to their area. For larger, more complex projects that impact a broader geographical area, multiple open house meetings may be held.

East River Electric Power Cooperative. East River Electric Power Cooperative, (East River),which has most of its facilities in South Dakota, also employs significant efforts to involve the public and local officials. Even with the smaller projects East River undertakes and the less formal permitting procedures required of the Cooperative in South Dakota, extensive efforts are made to keep the public advised and to solicit input from local officials and landowners.

East River has a multifaceted public and governmental outreach effort with current and proposed projects. At an initial stage in the development of a project, East River contacts local governmental officials in the area of the potential project to alert them about the project. Letters are also sent to landowners in the project area describing the project. Courthouse records are used to identify the landowners. The Cooperative includes a map of the proposed project and a picture of the type of pole that will be used with the notification letter. It's only after notifying the landowners does East River begin to focus on obtaining permits from local county and city officials, each with different guidelines and following different timelines. After the project notification letter has been sent and local officials have been contacted, a public informational meeting may be held. As the line route begins to develop, the Cooperative will visit with local officials and landowners in person about acquiring an easement to place the poles on their land. East River takes pride in providing transparency with proposed and current projects. East River believes that working with all interested entities during project development is more efficient than waiting until the end when changes are more difficult. After easement acquisition is complete, permits are finalized.

It is also informative to select a few specific projects and identify the efforts the utilities undertook in those matters to involve local government and the public throughout development of the projects. These examples involve large projects and not every project includes such comprehensive local governmental involvement, of course, but they do illustrate the commitment of the utilities to ensure that in all cases local government and the general public are aware of ongoing projects and have opportunities to express their concerns and desires.

4.4.1 Bemidji - Grand Rapids 230 kV line. Tracking Number 2005-NW-N2 and 2005-CX-1

A good example of the efforts undertaken by the utilities to involve local government in the project is the new 230 kV line between Bemidji and Grand Rapids. Tracking Number 2005-NW-N2 and 2005-CX-1. This line was actually put into operation in November of 2012.

The following bullet points represent the major meetings/filings that were held for the project, although the list is not complete. Other agency and public meetings were held as well.

  • April 10, 2006 - Meetings with Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee Chairman Goggleye and other members began.
  • April 10, 2006 - Informational meetings began with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwa (LLBO) Department of Resource Management, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (TIHPO), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Follow up meetings occurred on: April 18, 2006 - October 27, 2006 - March 5, 2007 - April 4, 2007 - April 5, 2007 - April 26, 2007 - May 17, 2007 - June 27, 2007 - June 28, 2007 - July 13, 2007 - July 25, 2007 - July 30, 2007 - September 10, 2007 - September 11, 2007 - September 17, 2007 and October 9, 2007
  • April 18, 2006 - Information meetings began with U.S. Forest Service, Chippewa National Forest, Army Corp of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Rural Utilities Services. Follow up meetings on October 24, 2006 - December 14, 2006 and January 27, 2007
  • October 11, 2007 - Informational meetings began with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Transportation and other state agencies. Follow up meetings on November 20, 2007 - December 21, 2007 (MN Department of Natural Resources) and April 10, 2008 (MN Department of Transportation)
  • June 26-28, 2007 - Voluntary open house meetings in Bemidji, Cass Lake, and Deer River
  • Summer 2007 LIC meetings at each of the 22 Local Indian Councils
  • September, 2007 Open meeting with meal for LLBO tribal members at Cass Lake
  • September 11, 2007 - Neighboring electric utilities and pipeline companies. Follow up meeting on October 26, 2007
  • October 9-11, 2007 - Voluntary open house meetings in Bemidji, Cass Lake, Deer River
  • March 17, 2008 - Certificate of Need filing, notice ads and letters sent to agencies and landowners in the project's proposed corridors.
  • June 4, 2008 - Route Permit filed with MPUC, notice ads published in 10 local newspapers and letters sent to agencies and landowners in project's proposed corridors.
  • July 2, 2008 - Notice of an appointment of the BGR Advisory Task Force to be held July 14 in Cass Lake.
  • August 11-14, 2008 Public scoping meetings in Blackduck, Cass Lake, Deer River, and Bemidji.
  • July 2009 - MPUC granted a Certificate of Need for the project.
  • February 24 2010, Notice of Draft EIS availability sent out.
  • March 16-18, 2010, March 16-18, 2010, Public information meetings in Bemidji, Deer River, and Cass Lake. Public meeting in Cass Lake drew larger than usual crowd, Elizabeth Sherman and about a dozen Loving Mother Earth supporters demonstrated prior to the meeting
  • April 5, 2010 - Notice of Public Hearing for Route Permit sent out.
  • April 21-23, 2010, Hearings held in Blackduck, Bemidji, Cass Lake, and Deer River before administrative law judge.
  • October 2010 - MPUC granted Route Permit

4.4.2 Great Northern Transmission Line (Tracking No. 2013-NE-N13)

A recently identified large transmission project - the Great Northern Transmission Line - which is still in early stages of development, provides an excellent example of outreach efforts being undertaken by Minnesota Power to involve the public and local government.

To create an upfront, engaging, and transparent agency and stakeholder outreach program for the Great Northern Transmission Line, a full-scale outreach strategy plan was developed and begun starting in August 2012. These efforts predate any actual filing with state or federal government for with the goal to include agency and public comments and concerns early in the routing process and prior to the regulatory processes. The following information provides an overview of the key outreach tools and meeting milestones for the Great Northern Transmission Line Project.

To provide consistent and ongoing communication and opportunities for comment submittals, the Great Northern Transmission Line Project Team launched a Project website (www.greatnortherntransmissionline.com), Project hotline (877.657.9934), and Project email (info@greatnortherntransmissionline.com). These tools are available for agency and public use and updated on a regular basis. The interactive maps and detailed aerial maps have been the most popular pages on the Project website to date. With a variety of comment tools, the Team has received 156 (63 Website, 24 Hotline, 69 Email) comments, in addition to extensive comments received at the public meetings described below. All of these comments received electronically are personally responded to via email, mail or phone call in a timely manner to address each individual's comments or questions.

Since the initial Project Study Area incorporated approximately 20,000 squares miles, the public outreach strategy included a round of 11 stakeholder workshops across the Study Area. Invitations were mailed to state and federal agencies, local officials, non-government organizations, and tribes to participate and learn about the Project, ask questions, and provide input regarding routing opportunities and constraints within their area. Following these meetings, the Team was able to use input gathered at the stakeholder workshops along with environmental and engineering data to reduce the broad Study Area to several general Corridors.

As the Team continued to refine the Corridors into Route Alternatives, two rounds of public open house meetings were held to educate the public on the purpose and need of the Project, answer questions, and gather input on routing opportunities and constraints in their area. In October 2012 and April 2013, a total of 28 open house meetings were held throughout the Corridors and Route Alternatives with a total of 1,330 open house meeting attendees. In addition to the in-person open houses, online public meetings were hosted through the Project website and 349 visitors received project information online through video clips, maps, and information boards.

This extensive outreach strategy has allowed the Project Team to develop relationships with the agencies, local officials and landowners potentially affected by the Project. The upfront and transparent process has been appreciated by all stakeholders. The Great Northern Transmission Line Project Team plans to continue these outreach efforts with another round of voluntary open house meetings scheduled in September 2013 to collect additional input before two or more routes are selected for inclusion in the Route Permit Application, to be submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in early 2014.

4.4.3 ITC Midwest Minnesota-Iowa 345 kV Transmission Project (Tracking No. 2013-SW-N4)

This is a new project first reported in the 2013 Biennial Report that is being developed by ITC Midwest, LLC. ITC Midwest first developed a large Study Area involving the counties of Jackson, Martin, and Faribault. Following development of the Study Area, on June 8, 2012, ITC sent a letter with a map to twenty-five federal, state, county, and local agencies and officials with jurisdiction within the Study Area identifying the proposed line and requesting feedback on potential resources and concerns to route development within the Study Area. The Study Area map provided with the letters not only identified possible routing options but also identified the proposed substation locations.

ITC Midwest received written replies from four agencies and received an additional two requests for additional GIS data to assist the agencies in their review. As a follow-up to the inquiry letters and to obtain additional information about potential routing concerns, ITC Midwest requested meetings with officials from Jackson, Martin, and Faribault counties. These meetings provided an opportunity to introduce the Project in greater detail and to obtain feedback from county representatives regarding potential resources and concerns unique to the area and to residents and landowners of each county. Additionally, the meetings provided an opportunity to discuss and obtain additional county-specific data that was available to increase the existing GIS database developed for the Project.

A total of three meetings with the Study Area counties (Jackson, Martin, and Faribault) were held on July 9, 2012. A range of staff members was present at each meeting, including county commissioners, planning and zoning staff, drainage administrators and inspectors, economic development staff, and county highway engineers. ITC Midwest provided an overview of the route selection process and provided details on the project schedule and plans for open houses in each county. ITC Midwest staff received information and GIS data on potential routing constraints and opportunities unique to each county.

ITC Midwest staff conducted six public open houses during the week of September 10, 2012. The meetings included two each in Jackson, Faribault, and Martin counties. ITC Midwest sent approximately 3,700 letters inviting residents, landowners, public officials, and other potential stakeholders to the meetings. ITC Midwest staff presented large-scale maps showing the initial Route Network developed as a result of agency responses, county meetings, site reconnaissance, and the GIS database developed for the Project. The open houses included nine separate information booths ranging in focus from routing, design and construction, regulatory, real estate/right-of-way and environmental/EMF.

A total of 445 individuals attended the meetings. In addition to extensive verbal comments, ITC Midwest received a total of 114 formal written comments. Landowner feedback from these open houses included comments and concerns for proximity to municipal airports, agricultural infrastructure (e.g., center-pivot irrigation systems), wind farm development, land use and agricultural practices, preference to utilize field lines, and other route development considerations. Between the public open houses, ITC Midwest staff also met with representatives from Jackson Municipal Airport to discuss potential routing constraints due to future airport expansion plans.

4.5 Webinar

4.5.1 2011 Webinar

The Minnesota Transmission Owners held an online webinar on November 18, 2011, utilizing the GoToMeeting.com video conferencing software that allows viewers join a seminar free of charge in real time via the Internet. The webinar was advertised in the statewide edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and notice of the Webinar was posted on the minnelectrans website in advance.

During the webcast utility employees discussed the transmission planning process in general, presented an overview of the transmission system in Minnesota, and discussed in some detail each of the projects identified in the 2011 Biennial Transmission Projects Report by zone. The utilities described how information about each of the proposed projects could be found in the MTEP reports and explained how to navigate the MISO website to find the various reports. Participants were also able to ask questions by submitting emails to the presenters.

Fewer than 20 people participated in the webcast, including a few people from the Department of Commerce. Many of the participants were employees of various utilities.

4.5.2 2013 Webinar

After the 2013 Biennial Transmission Report is filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on November 1, the MTO will host another webinar to discuss transmission planning in the state and to review the 2013 Report. The webinar will be promoted on the Minnelectrans.com home page, and an advertisement will be placed in a statewide edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. It is expected the webinar will be held in mid-November. During the webinar, utility representatives will be available to discuss any of the projects identified in the Biennial Report, to describe ongoing transmission planning studies, and to answer any questions participants may have.