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Studies and Reports > 2017 MN Biennial Report > Public Participation


Transmission Projects Report 2017
Chapter 4: Public Participation
 

4.0 Public Participation

4.1 Public Involvement in Transmission Planning

Both the statute – Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425 – and the MPUC rules – Minn. Rule part 7848.0900 – emphasize the importance of providing the public and local government officials with an opportunity to participate in transmission planning.  Over the years of filing biennial reports, the utilities have tried, in accordance with MPUC requirements, various methods of advising the public of opportunities to learn about and participate in transmission planning activities. 

The MPUC adopted rules for public involvement in transmission planning as part of the biennial report requirements in 2003.  Initially, in accordance with Minn. Rule part 7848.0900, the utilities held 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 May 2008 when the MPUC approved the 2007 Report, the MPUC granted a variance from the obligation to hold these zonal meetings, and that variance has been extended every time since, including in the May 27, 2016, Order regarding this year's Biennial Report.  No public meetings were required in the transmission planning zones as part of this year's biennial report submission. 

In lieu of the public meetings, beginning with the preparation of the 2009 Report, the utilities held six webinars, one for each transmission planning zone, to report on the transmission inadequacies identified in the Biennial Report for each zone.  These webinars were not any better attended than the zonal meetings were in previous years.  Few questions and comments were generated. 

For the 2011 Report, with Commission approval, the utilities held one webinar.  Despite widespread notice in a statewide newspaper of the webinar, only a few people participated, and most of those were utility or state employees.  In 2013, after the 2013 Biennial Report was filed, the utilities held another webinar.  Again, essentially nobody participated – only one person joined in the webinar. 

As a result, the Commission has now determined that the utilities are not required to hold a webinar with regard to the Report. 

4.2    MISO Transmission Planning

As has been described in previous biennial reports and again in this report, most transmission planning is now conducted through the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO).  MISO provides all kinds of opportunities for the public to be involved in transmission planning.  The reality is, however, that not many members of the general public avail themselves of these opportunities.  It is understandable, because transmission planning is an extremely technical endeavor. 

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.  Biennial Reports going back to 2005 are available on that website, as are many different transmission-related studies.  There is a contact form on the webpage where visitors can ask questions of utilities about proposed projects.  Only a handful of questions have ever been submitted using that method. 

The Minnesota Transmission Owners have even developed two short videos detailing items of interest to the general public about transmission lines that are available on the webpage.  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.

The utilities will continue to post the biennial reports on the webpage and to monitor any questions that are submitted.  The utilities are open to comments from the public about how to improve the webpage. 

4.4   Efforts to Involve the General Public and Local Officials on Specific Projects

The MTO utilities are well aware of the importance of notifying the general public and local governmental officials of any potential large energy project in their area.  The public may not get involved in esoteric transmission planning activities but it surely wants to be aware of projects that are under consideration in its locale.  The utilities often engage local governmental officials and the public in public meetings to discuss upcoming projects.

Minn. Stat. § 216E.03, subds. 3a and 3b, requires any utility that is planning to file an application for a route permit with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for a new transmission project to notify local governmental officials within a possible route of the existence of the project and the opportunity for a preapplication meeting.  The utilities do this, of course, and often local governmental bodies request a meeting with the utility. 

In the 2015 Biennial Report, in Section 4.4, the utilities provided several examples of the steps the utilities take to involve local government and the general public in specific projects.  A few additional examples are included below.

4.4.1  Plymouth-Area Power Upgrade
MPUC Tracking Number 2017-TC-N6

On May 25, 2016, Xcel Energy held two public open houses, from 12 to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Medina Ballroom in Medina, to gather public input on the three different electrical options that the Company studied to meet the electrical needs of the Plymouth area.  Notice for these public open houses were sent to over 7,700 landowners and other stakeholders and notice was also published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and in the local Sun Sailor newspaper on May 19, 2016.  Approximately 80 people attended the two public open house sessions.

At these two public open houses, Xcel Energy presented information about the three electrical alternatives (Alternatives A-C) that the Company has identified to help solve Plymouth's identified electrical needs. A summary of these three alternatives is provided below:

  • Alternative A:  construct a new Pomerleau Lake Substation south of Schmidt Lake Road and west of I-494, construct two new 34.5 kV distribution feeders from this substation to the west, reinforce existing feeders and extend one existing 13.8 kV feeder from the Parkers Lake Substation, and install approximately 12 pad-mounted transformers. 

  • Alternative B:  expand Parkers Substation near I-494 and County Road 6, construct two new 34.5 kV feeders from the Parkers Lake Substation to the west, reinforce existing feeders and extend one existing 13.8 kV feeders from the Parkers Lake Substation, and install approximately 12 pad-mounted transformers.

  • Alternative C:  expand existing Hollydale Substation and build three new 13.8 kV feeders from the Hollydale substation, construct new Pomerleau Lake Substation, extend the existing 69 kV line 0.7 miles from Hollydale to Pomerleau Lake and re-energize the Hollydale-Pomerleau Lake 69 kV line, keep the Medina-Hollydale 69 kV line energized, reinforce existing feeders and extend one existing 13. 8 kV feeder from Parkers Lake Substation.

All three of these options met the immediate, near-term, and long-term load-serving needs of Plymouth.  Maps of each of these three alternatives were available to the public.

Additional information regarding these three alternatives was available in the Company's electrical study, "Plymouth-Area Engineering Study Report," a copy of which was available on the Company's website:
http://www.transmission.xcelenergy.com/Projects/Minnesota/Plymouth-Project.
 
In addition to presenting information about these three alternatives including maps and photos of typical facilities, the public open houses also featured stations with information about the Company's DSM programs, electricity 101, need for electrical improvements, vegetation management, construction, and right-of-way. 

At the public open houses, Xcel Energy had comment forms available for landowners to submit comments.  The Company website also included a comment form, as well as an email address and a telephone number for comments.  The deadline for submitting comments was June 25, 2016.  Xcel Energy spent many hours responding to the comments that were received and posted answers on the Company's website to many of the questions that were received.

As explained in section 6.6.1 for Tracking Number 2017-TC-N6, the alternative that was selected was Alternative C.  Xcel Energy will continue to keep landowners and the city and the general public informed of developments.

4.4.2  Menahga Area 115 kV Project
MPUC Tracking Number 2013-NE-N21

In January 2015, Great River Energy applied for a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit for a new 115 kV transmission line in Hubbard, Wadena and Becker Counties.  In its application, at page 1-10, GRE explained that it contacted several local governmental bodies and invited them to meet prior to submitting the application.  As part of its application, at page 2-4, GRE explained that pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 216B.03, subds. 3a and 3b, the following efforts were undertaken to inform the public about this project:

Great River Energy held a public open house informational meeting on September 30, 2014, at the Menahga Senior Center in Menahga, MN to provide information about the Project to the public.  Great River Energy sent post card open house invitations to 141 landowners within the 1000-foot notice corridor.  Great River Energy also mailed notice of the Project and open house to 93 agencies, elected officials, and local governmental units, including tribal representatives (White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe).  Newspaper notices announcing the open house were also placed in four local newspapers approximately a week before the open house.

Approximately 30 members of the public attended the open house.

The meeting was publicized in several local papers approximately one week prior to the open house, and landowners potentially impacted received a post card invitation.  Tribal and local government officials and resource agencies were also invited by letter (Minn. Stat. § 216E.03, subd. 3a).  Large aerial maps of the proposed Project, photos of proposed transmission structures, fact sheets, information on the permitting process and need for the Project, ROW information, and a post card for questions or comments were available at the open house.

4.4.3  Motley Area 115 kV Project
MPUC Tracking Number 2015-NE-N6

In March 2015, Great River Energy applied for a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit for a new 115 kV transmission line in Morrison, Cass and Todd Counties.  In its application, at page 1-10, GRE explained that it contacted several local governmental bodies and invited them to meet prior to submitting the application.  As part of its application, at pages 2-4 and 2-5, GRE explained that pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 216B.03, subds. 3a and 3b, the following efforts were undertaken to inform the public about this project:

Great River Energy held a public open house informational meeting on September 23, 2014, at the Motley United Methodist Church located in Motley, MN to provide information about the Project to the public. Great River Energy sent 172 post card invitations (copy included in Appendix A) announcing the open house to all landowners within 1,000 feet of a preliminary route for the project, which did not include the East Route Option for the proposed 115 kV transmission line segment between Minnesota Power's "24 Line" transmission line and the March 2015 Motley Area 115 kV Project 1-11 existing Crow Wing Power Motley Substation. Great River Energy also mailed 73 letters and project fact sheets (an example letter is provided in Appendix A) providing details of the Project and open house meeting to agencies, elected officials, and local governmental units (LGUs).

Approximately 20 members of the public attended the open house meeting on September 23, 2014.

These are the kind of efforts that utilities follow prior to the time an application for a route permit for a new transmission line is filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.