Draft EIS to consider multiple routes for Minnesota to Iowa 345-kV project

The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Minnesota to Iowa 345-kV transmission project proposed by ITC Holdings (NYSE:ITC) subsidiary ITC Midwest is expected to be issued in February 2014 by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and will include the evaluation of seven possible routes for the 75-mile portion of the line that will be in Minnesota, the department said in the environmental impact scoping decision issued Oct. 14 (Docket Nos. ET6675/CN-12-1053 and ET6675/TL-12-1337).

Under Minnesota law, the commerce department’s Energy Environmental Review and Analysis staff is responsible for conducting the environmental review for the certificate of need (CN) application and the route permit applications that were submitted to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in March. Because two concurrent environmental reviews are required – one for the CN application and one for the route permit application – the department elected to combine the environmental review for the two applications. The EIS that will be prepared will meet the requirements of both review processes.

The issuance of the scoping decision followed a scoping period that included six public meetings attended by approximately 200 people and the submission of more than 220 written comments during a public comment period that ended Aug. 2.

Of the written comments received, 159 of them included a form letter from the “worshippers and friends” of a church in Sherburn, Minn., that is near one of the proposed routes, noting that the route as proposed prevented possible expansion of the church and “threatened the congregants with adverse public health and property value impacts,” the department noted.

Issues and impacts of greatest concern raised in oral and written comments include potential health effects from the line, raised by 76% of commenters, followed by property values and aesthetics, raised by 73% of commenters. Other concerns included impacts to farming operations (16%); impacts to airstrips, trees and windbreaks, and wildlife and birds (3% each); stray voltage and impacts to springs and wells (1% each).

The draft EIS will evaluate two proposed routes proposed by ITC Midwest – Route A and Route B – as well alternative for a total of seven route alternatives. The draft EIS will also evaluate several connector segments, route and alignment alternatives, and substation sites.

In addition, the draft EIS will describe and analyze the feasibility of seven alternatives to the proposed transmission project, including upgrading of existing facilities, building a transmission line of a different size, using generation rather than transmission, use of renewable energy sources, purchased power, demand side management, and a no-build alternative.

ITC Midwest is proposing the new 345-kV transmission project that will extend approximately 75 miles from its Lakefield substation near Lakefield, Minn., to a new Huntley substation near Winnebago, Minn. From there, it will turn south and continue approximately 31.5 miles to connect to a new MidAmerican Energy substation in Kossuth County, Iowa.

The project also includes the expansion of the existing Lakefield substation, and the construction of the Huntley substation, which will replace the existing Winnebago substation. It will also include relocating and reconfiguring several segments of existing 161-kV and 69-kV line that currently terminate at the Winnebago substation.

Sponsors held an informational meeting, which is required to precede a franchise petition filing, in Kossuth County, Iowa, on April 17. The company anticipates filing its franchise application with the Iowa Utilities Board for that approximately 31-mile-long segment later this month, an ITC Midwest spokesperson told TransmissionHub (Docket No. E-22116).

The project was studied by the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) and was approved in the 2011 MISO Transmission Expansion Plan as one of 17 multi-value projects that “address multiple needs and provide multiple benefits to the entire region,” ITC Midwest said on its project website. ITC Midwest says the project will bring four types of benefits to Minnesota, Iowa, and the entire MISO region: improved reliability, expanded access to generation sources, increased system efficiency through reduced congestion on the electrical grid, and new jobs and economic investment.

Following the issuance of the draft EIS, a public comment period will be opened and public hearings will be held in the project area. Those hearings are anticipated to take place in April 2014.

In its CN application, ITC Midwest estimated the cost of the project at between $271m and $283m. Barring unanticipated delays, the company expects to begin construction during 1Q16 and completion during 1Q17.