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Studies and Reports > 2021 Biennial Report > Public Participation


Transmission Projects Report 2021
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 August 19, 2020, 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 MISO. MISO provides numerous 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 MTO 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 MTO 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 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 early transmission planning activities, but public interest and awareness rises when projects are under consideration in a particular 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 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 Xcel Energy 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 Xcel Energy’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 Xcel Energy’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 its website to many of the questions that were received.

Transmission Project Public Involvement

During the past two years Great River Energy (GRE) has applied for permitting on several transmission and substation projects both with the Commission and at the local level. Regardless of the permitting authority, GRE follows the standard procedure of involving the public prior to the application and throughout the permitting process to keep the public informed. Some recent examples of public outreach are:

  • Lake Eunice 115 kV Transmission Conversion Project –
    • This project involved two private landowners. Early in the project development phase, Great River Energy’s land agent contacted the landowners and provided them with information on the project.
  • Frazee to Erie 115 kV Transmission Project – Becker County
    • GRE held a public open house informational meeting in February 2020 to inform the public about this project. Over 100 invitations for the meeting were mailed to private landowners and business along the anticipated project route 13 days prior to the open house, and display advertisements were published a total of five times in three local newspapers. Seventeen people signed into the open house.

As GRE continues to work on new transmission and substation projects, public participation will continue to be a focal point to a successful project. 

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 Commission.