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Studies and Reports > 2023 Biennial Report > Public Participation

Transmission Projects Report 2023
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 rule (Minn. R. 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 each time since, including in the June  29, 2022 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 of the webinar in a statewide newspaper, 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 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 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. This 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; interested persons can obtain various information there 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, available on the webpage, detailing items of interest to the general public about transmission lines. 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 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 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.

As described further below, utilities implemented several best practices to encourage public input and stakeholder engagement in transmission planning efforts.

4.4.1  Transmission Project Public Involvement

During the last few years, utilities have developed early stakeholder engagement and public outreach efforts to increase participation in transmission planning and permitting dockets. Utilities’ efforts related to the MISO LRTP Tranche 1 projects provide a good example of these efforts. Public outreach efforts for the Northern Reliability Project are described as an example; however, most other utility-led transmission projects utilize a similar approach to early public outreach.

  • Northland Reliability Project
    • Minnesota Power and Great River Energy employed various engagement methods to provide information about the Northland Reliability Project to the public and federal, state, and local agencies, Tribal Nation representatives, and non-government organizations. The Project team developed a public engagement plan in late summer 2022 that consisted of two engagement phases – Route Corridor and Preliminary Route notifications – with the goal to share information about the project and gather insights on routing opportunities and constraints within the Project Area. Early coordination with stakeholders included project introduction letters along with a series in-person stakeholder workshops held fall 2022. The two phases of public engagement included in-person open houses, virtual self-guided public open houses, direct mailings, paid advertisements in local newspapers, social media posts, a dedicated email and hotline to field questions and comments, an interactive online comment map, a Project website, and detailed maps that could be downloaded and printed from the Project website and mailed project information packets. During the engagement process, the Northland Reliability Project team connected with hundreds of meeting attendees (in-person and virtual), gathered hundreds of routing comments, and had thousands of website visitors reviewing maps and project information.

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 and have proven successful in engaging a wide variety of stakeholders in the transmission planning process.