Transmission line to connect Minnesota wind project gains needed OK

A short stretch of power line that will connect a wind farm being built for Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) to the power grid in Minnesota is one step closer to gaining the necessary approvals (Docket No. IP-6828/WS-09-1197).

On Dec. 17, the Mower County, Minn., Board of Commissioners approved with minor changes a draft environmental assessment (EA) for the planned 200 MW Pleasant Valley wind project that will include a new substation and a 161-kV transmission line to connect the new facility to an existing substation owned by Great River Energy. Depending on the route chosen, the transmission line will be between five miles and eight miles in length.

The EA was approved by the county board because, under the state’s Power Plant Siting Act, utilities can elect to seek local approval of certain projects under 50 MW. In addition, Minnesota statutes make certain transmission projects in excess of 100-kV eligible for review and permitting by local units of government with jurisdiction instead of filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The project’s developer, RES America Developments, sought to have the project approved at the local level. At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Mower County board accepted jurisdiction, agreed to be the permitting authority for the project and opened a public comment period. In an Oct. 28  letter to the board, the PUC acknowledged the board’s acceptance of jurisdiction, and confirmed that the proposed power line was eligible for local review.

Now that the board has rendered a decision, the draft EA will go to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, which will publish it in EQB Monitor, a bi-weekly publication announcing environmental reviews. Publication, which is expected in the Jan. 6 edition, will open an additional 10-day comment period.

Following that comment period, the draft EA will be returned to the county board for final action, which is expected at its Jan. 28 meeting. If the board approves the document, it will then hold public hearings on conditional use permits for the various components of the project. Those hearings are planned for Feb. 25.

The conditional use permit for the line will determine which of two basic routes the line will take. In general, the line would go from a new 34.5-kV/161-kV substation to be built near Sargeant, Minn., to the existing Great River Energy substation about five miles to the east.

If the project receives the conditional use permit, work could begin immediately and be completed in fall of 2015, according to the developer.

Once the project is completed, Xcel Energy will buy, own and operate the facility, a company spokesperson told TransmissionHub Dec. 20, but noted that the project has been scaled down since it was originally proposed. The original plan calling for total output of 300 MW was scaled back to its present level because of economic conditions.