Xcel Energy asks for more in-depth review of proposed line upgrade

Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) and Great River Energy (NYSE:GRE) asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Feb. 27 to approve a more thorough review process for the proposed Hollydale 115-kV transmission project west of Minneapolis.

The utilities originally filed the project under the alternative review process, an option that provides accelerated review for projects of shorter length. Instead of a year or more, the alternative review can be completed in six to eight months. Although faster, the alternative review process includes less interaction with stakeholders.

It was, in fact, interaction with stakeholders that convinced the utilities to change their approach.

“We heard from a couple of landowner groups along the proposed route that felt that a project like this should be vetted more fully through the full permit process,” Joe Sedarski, senior permitting analyst for Xcel Energy told TransmissionHub on March 8. “We have a project that really needs to be done but if that’s what the landowners want, we’ll do that.”

Pending state approvals, Xcel Energy plans to acquire from Great River Energy the existing eight-mile stretch of 69-kV line that runs from the existing Medina substation near Medina, Minn., to the Hollydale substation near Plymouth. The utility will upgrade that line to 115-kV, add 0.8 mile of new 115-kV line, and build a new substation north of the town.

In addition to an extended review schedule, the full permit process will include an environmental impact statement (EIS) which will be issued in draft for public comment; the alternative review process employs a shorter environmental assessment.

The full process will also include a “contested-case hearing,” which is overseen by an administrative law judge (ALJ). This formal hearing allows parties to become formal intervenors so they can bring witnesses and cross-examine witnesses brought by other parties.

Xcel has also initiated the certificate of need process, which is required for projects over 10 miles in length. While the current alignment is less than 10 miles, “There are 13 complete alternate routes being assessed by the state,” Sedarski said. “Our preferred route is still the existing corridor [but] if the PUC ultimately decides that the route they’re going to grant is over 10 miles, we’ll need to finish the needs process.

Xcel expects the PUC to decide whether to approve the request to move to the full review process at its April 5 meeting.