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Studies and Reports > 2011 MN Biennial Report > Public Participation

Transmission Projects Report 2011
Chapter 4: Public Participation
pp. 29-33

4.0    Public Participation

4.1   Generally

Both the statute – Minnesota Statutes § 216B.2425 – and the PUC rules – Minnesota Rules part 7848.0900 – emphasize the importance of providing the public and local government officials with an opportunity to participate in transmission planning.  In the past, in accordance with PUC 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, the PUC granted a variance from the obligation to hold zonal meetings in 2008 and 2009.  Instead, in September 2009, with PUC approval, the utilities held six webinars, one for each transmission planning zone, to report on the transmission inadequacies identified in the 2009 Report.  These webinars were not any better attended than the zonal meetings were in previous years.  Few questions and comments were generated. 

In its May 28, 2010, Order approving the 2009 Report, the Commission extended the variance from the obligation to hold the zonal meetings.  As a result, no such public meetings were held in any of the zones in 2010 or 2011.  Nor has any webinar been held as of the date of submission of this Report, but as explained below, one will be scheduled before the end of this year during which the utilities can discuss the matters in this Report and solicit public input into all aspects of transmission planning and into the transmission inadequacies identified across the state. 

To replace the public meetings, the PUC directed the utilities to develop more effective means of securing input into transmission planning issues.  One specific tool the PUC directed the utilities to utilize was the Internet.  The PUC also directed the utilities to meet with developers of renewable energy.  The efforts the utilities have employed in the past two years to involve the public in transmission planning and in addressing transmission inadequacies are described below. 

4.2   Transmission Planning

For those utilities that are members of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), much of the transmission planning that is undertaken is conducted through MISO.  As explained elsewhere in this Report, particularly in Chapter 6, MISO conducts an annual 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.

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.

Those utilities that are not part of MISO also provide opportunities for the public to be involved in their transmission planning activities. 

Local officials and members of the general public are interested in projects that are likely to impact their local area or property. When it comes to general transmission planning and system evaluation and identifying potential inadequacies, most stakeholders expect utilities to evaluate those issues as part of ongoing utility activities. The experience of Minnesota utilities has shown that unless a project has been identified and includes a general area where the project is needed (such as an overall area of the state or specific issues between substation locations or municipalities), stakeholders are uninterested in the process.

Utilities do make a great effort to describe activities related to ensuring the reliable delivery of electricity both when projects are identified and when outages have occurred, such as after weather-related events. For example, several Great River Energy cooperatives (and other Minnesota utilities) experienced outages related to severe weather during the summer of 2011. After service was restored to these areas, many presentations were made to interested stakeholders. Runestone Electric Association in Alexandria, to name one, met with the cooperative’s Member Advisory Council and described the hour-by-hour process in which the utility managed outage response and how service was restored to members. All utilities work closely with local governments during issues such as severe weather (particularly coordination with emergency services and public works). If outages happen to be related to or exacerbated by planning-oriented issues, those are raised with local stakeholders as needed.

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.

In 2009, Minnesota Transmission Owners significantly expanded information on the website, as well as made it easier to find information in the report and ask questions of utilities. The Biennial Report was broken into sections to make downloading faster. Additional HTML coding was added to enable users to hover their computer’s cursor over a map and pop-up boxes would appear that noted inadequacies that had been identified in the area.

A contact form was implemented that enabled visitors to send questions or comments in to the MTO. In the two years between filing the 2009 report and the writing of this document, there were exactly 16 comments or questions submitted, the majority of which were from construction contractors asking to be added to requests for proposals; others asked for hard copies of the 2009 Biennial Report or asked questions about the CapX2020 project.

For the 2011 Biennial Report filing, the website is being updated to describe how stakeholders can access information on the MISO website about proposed projects and planning issues.

Additionally, some utilities have increased the information provided about projects on their websites. In many cases, information and regulatory documents are posted, along with opportunities for public input and historical opportunities for input.

4.4   Specific Projects

Local officials and the general public are generally only interested in transmission issues that impact their local community.  Utilities routinely meet with local officials to describe potential transmission needs and projects affecting their community. Utilities around the state have close relationships with city and county staff in their service areas. Many local transmission needs are identified by local utility staff.

Local officials and the public are primarily interested in the routing of specific transmission projects. Numerous steps are taken by the utilities to advise interested persons of proposed transmission lines. Even with the smallest of transmission projects, such as a 69 kV line or a 115 kV line, utilities provide information and solicit participation from local stakeholders ranging from elected officials, local government staff and, importantly, potentially affected landowners.

It is standard practice in the utility industry, particularly in Minnesota, to host open houses to explain to local stakeholders the need for new projects and how to participate in the route development and regulatory processes. At these meetings, utility personnel answer questions and solicit feedback on potential route options in the area. Meetings are generally publicized through advertisements in local newspapers, as well as direct mailings to local governments and potentially affected landowners.

Local governments are often heavily involved in projects affecting their locality. Project developers work with local staff, including planning and environmental personnel, as well as elected officials. In addition to formal public outreach, it is common to hold meetings with county and city staff where the utilities present plans and request feedback from local officials.

For example, on the Xcel Energy and Great River Energy Hollydale project (2009-TC-N6 and PUC Docket No. TL-11-152) two public information meetings were held in the project area prior to a Route Permit application being filed. The following project schedule is posted on the Xcel Energy website:

  • August-September, 2010:  Project Notice Letter sent to Local Governmental Units (LGUs) and Agencies
  • Fall 2010:  Early discussions with LGU’s
  • September 15, 2010:  First Public Information Meeting hosted by Xcel Energy
  • October 22, 2010:  Landowner Public Meeting
  • November 23, 2010:  Second Public Information Meeting hosted by Xcel Energy
  • February 14, 2011:  Notification of Intent by Xcel Energy and Great River Energy to File a Route Permit Application Under the Alternative Permitting Process
  • June 30, 2011:  Route Permit Application for the Hollydale Project filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission
  • July 12, 2011:  Published Notice of filing of the Route Permit Application in two local newspapers
  • July 13, 2011:  Project Notice of filing of the Route Permit Application mailed to potentially affected landowners
  • July 22, 2011:  Project Notice of filing of the Route Permit Application mailed to potentially affected landowners

This type of outreach has become standard procedure for transmission line projects in Minnesota.

4.5   2011 Webinar

In 2011, the MTO will host one webcast soon after the filing of the Biennial Report on November 1 to explain how transmission planning is conducted, describe the details about the information in the 2011 Report, direct stakeholders on how to participate in future transmission planning activities, and answer questions about specific transmission line projects.

Interested persons and various state and local officials will be notified by email about the webcast and given instructions on how to participate.  Additionally, a statewide newspaper ad will be placed detailing the webcast.

4.6   Contacts with Developers

The Public Utilities Commission directed the utilities to reach out to developers of generating facilities, particularly renewable energy facilities, to discuss future transmission needs.  Utilities consistently meet with energy developers, particularly renewable energy companies, to describe how to work more effectively to deliver new renewable energy resources onto the transmission grid. Because the projects under consideration by energy developers are generally confidential, it would be inappropriate to describe the meetings in detail in this public forum.

Utilities generally take information from developers and identify transmission deficiencies that can enable additional renewable energy development while not adversely impacting the transmission system’s need to serve customers.

Significant examples of transmission projects that will enable new generation interconnections are the Buffalo Ridge Incremental Generation Outlet (BRIGO) in southwest Minnesota, the CapX2020 Brookings County-Hampton project, and the Rochester Interconnection Generation Outlet (RIGO) projects in southeast Minnesota. All of these projects have helped connect additional renewable energy projects to the transmission grid, and were partially spurred from conversations with wind developers and other stakeholders who encouraged additional transmission in the region.

The Commission specifically directed the utilities to meet with American Renewable Energy Solutions, LLC, a small Minnesota company that filed comments in the 2009 proceeding suggesting that the utilities expedite construction of transmission facilities in the West Central Transmission Planning Zone to handle anticipated new wind projects.  A MTO representative discussed with ARES the construction of transmission facilities during the meeting for the West Central Zone on Sept. 17, 2009. ARES inquired as to how to reserve capacity for their clients’ projects.  In response, the MISO interconnection process was explained, including the following:

  • ARES clients need to follow the MISO interconnection process as do all other generators (including utility developed projects) in the MISO footprint.
  • The MISO interconnection process determines, based on the project’s queue position, which project will receive rights to any available transmission capacity.
  • Neither utilities nor project developers have rights to reserve available transmission capacity and must allow any excess transmission capacity to remain for the next project in the queue.
  • Therefore, there is no method for reserving transmission capacity for the customers of ARES.

4.7   PUC Procedures

Some of the transmission projects described in this Report will require a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit from the Public Utilities Commission.  The utility or utilities proposing a specific project will comply with all the requirements established by the PUC for providing notice to the public about a proposed project.  While this notice may come well after the transmission planning has been completed that identified the project as one that should be constructed, there will still be opportunities for interested persons and local officials to participate in the process and have input into the final decision.