Xcel, GRE seek to withdraw application for Hollydale upgrade project

Interested parties have until Jan. 29 to file comments on a joint request by Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) and Great River Energy that Minnesota state regulators allow them to withdraw their applications for the proposed Hollydale transmission upgrade project (Docket No. 11-152).

The companies submitted their initial applications to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) in June 2011 for a certificate of need and a route permit for the project, to be located in the communities of Plymouth and Medina, both in Minnesota.

“Analysis showed that infrastructure upgrades for the distribution system are needed now and are needed for the transmission system by 2016 to continue safe and reliable service,” an Xcel spokesperson told TransmissionHub Jan. 27.

The project would have increased the operating voltage of the eight-mile transmission line from 69-kV to 115-kV, added approximately 0.8 miles of new 115-kV line, built a new Xcel substation called the Pomerleau Lake substation and upgraded Great River’s existing Medina substation “to avoid circuit overloads and provide increased transmission and distribution capacity to serve the area,” the spokesperson said.

However, over the more than 2.5 years since the initial filings, area residents submitted “hundreds of citizen comments” about the project and the utilities were concerned that the waters had become muddied.

“Because of the length of time that these dockets have been pending and the numerous options that have been explored, we are concerned that the record may be unclear,” the spokesperson said. “Rather than try to develop additional options into this record, we believe it is best to start fresh and promote a full and complete record on an infrastructure solution and route for this community.”

The companies on Dec. 10, 2013, submitted a joint request to withdraw the pending certificate of need and route permit applications and discussed the matter further at a prehearing conference before an MPUC administrative law judge (ALJ) on Dec. 17, 2013.

However, the concept of starting fresh raised some potential issues for some of the commenters. According to the ALJ’s Jan. 7 order granting motion for certification of the request, the ALJ referred to concerns raised by a neighborhood alliance and an individual that the “comments in this record not be sacrificed” following a withdrawal of the applications.

Accordingly, along with his recommendation that the MPUC allow the applicants to withdraw their applications for a certificate of need and a route permit, the ALJ recommended that MPUC consider ordering the creating of “a summary of the comments and testimony developed through the public hearing process” to be used in the event that the utilities resubmit their applications in the future.

In his recommendation, the ALJ chose not to include a proviso requested by the parties that the applicants “be precluded from resubmitting a variant of the Hollydale 115-kV transmission project, a rebuild project or an upgrade project along the existing 69-kV corridor.”

Reply comments will be accepted at the MPUC through Feb. 19, after which the commission will decide whether to accept or reject the order as proposed, or pass a modified version of its own.

The Xcel spokesperson said a decision is expected in early spring.

For its part, Xcel expressed its intent to work closely with residents and other stakeholders to identify a new route that will both minimize impacts and will be acceptable to the community.

The timing for next steps is not yet known, as the companies acknowledged that timing “depends on direction the commission may provide.”