The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in an Oct. 4 order said that it accepts as substantially complete a certificate of need application, a large wind energy conversion system (LWECS) site permit application, as well as a high voltage transmission line (HVTL) rout permit application, all filed by Dodge County Wind LLC (DCW) in relation to the proposed Dodge County Wind Project and associated facilities in Steel, Dodge, and Olmstead counties in Minnesota.
The commission said it also adopts the recommendations of the Department of Commerce, Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (EERA), as modified.
According to EERA’s Aug. 10 recommendations filing, the commission’s acceptance of the applications will allow EERA staff to begin the environmental review process.
DCW in late June filed three separate applications in support of its proposed 170-MW Dodge County Wind Farm, to be located in Dodge and Steele counties, as well as an associated 23-mile, 345-kV transmission line in Dodge and Olmstead counties, EERA said.
The project would generate up to 170 MW of electric energy at the Dodge County Wind Farm and deliver to the electrical grid at Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA) existing Byron substation via a newly built 345-kV HVTL. EERA added that DCW has negotiated a 30-year power purchase agreement with the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA), noting that the project’s output would meet and exceed MMPA’s renewable energy standard.
DCW proposes to build up to 70 wind turbines and associated facilities, including underground electric collector lines, a new collector substation, an operations and maintenance facility, permanent meteorological towers, and gravel access roads. EERA also said that the proposed site is about 81 square miles located in western Dodge County and eastern Steele County. DCW proposes to install 62 General Electric (GE) 2.5-MW wind turbines and eight GE 1.715-MW wind turbines. EERA added that at the time of the filing, DCW said that it had acquired 78% of the land required for successful construction and operation of the project. Easement negotiations are ongoing. EERA also said that DCW anticipates beginning construction of the LWECS in mid-2019, with an anticipated commercial operation date (COD) of Dec. 31, 2019.
Of the 345-kV HVTL, EERA said that DCW proposes to build a new collector substation – the Dodge County Wind substation – in the eastern portion of the LWECS (Ripley Township, Dodge County). DCW proposes to connect the LWECS to the electrical grid through about 23 miles of new 345-kV transmission line between the collector substation and SMMPA’s existing Byron substation, located immediately west of Byron in Olmstead County. EERA added that in addition to the construction of the Dodge County Wind substation and the 345-kV transmission line, the project would require equipment additions and reconfigurations within the Byron substation to connect the new 345-kV line. DCW proposes to use monopole structures ranging from 80 feet to 140 feet in height.
EERA also said that DCW indicates that the proposed HVTL would require a right of way (ROW) – easement width – of 150 feet for most of each proposed route, but has identified areas where it believes it would require a lesser easement if it shares existing roadway easements. DCW states that it has acquired voluntary easements for about 97% of the length of Route Alternative A and 95% of the length of Route Alternative B. DCW’s proposed Route A is 21 miles, while proposed Route B is 26 miles, EERA said.
DCW anticipates that project construction would begin in mid-2019, and that the new line would be in service by the end of that year.
EERA said that its staff finds that the route permit application contains appropriate and substantially complete information with respect to certain requirements, including descriptions of the proposed project and potential environmental impacts, as well as mitigation measures.
The one additional piece of information that EERA staff requests from DCW is a clarification on how easements were obtained. EERA added that its staff received a few phone calls from property owners concerned that their easements with other companies for different projects that were not ultimately developed had been transferred to DCW for the project. EERA staff believes that it would be helpful for DCW to clarify whether all easements have been negotiated directly with landowners for the project, or whether any have been transferred to DCW from other projects, EERA said.
EERA staff believes that the site permit application provides the information required in a format that the public can access. EERA also said that its staff finds the information in the certificate of need application to be rather superficial, but when combined with the more detailed information contained in the LWECS and HVTL applications, the sum of the information provided is sufficient to begin project review.
Among other things, EERA said that its staff notes two areas related to the proposed HVTL where the information in the applications is not well supported, including the use of eminent domain. DCW states that it does not have the authority to exercise eminent domain and has developed the route proposals by reaching voluntary agreements with landowners. During the EIS scoping process, the public and agencies are asked to propose route alternatives to be evaluated in the EIS, EERA added, noting that it is possible that, through the scoping process, route alternatives may be suggested that include areas where landowners have rejected easements from DCW, or have not been approached by DCW. In such cases, EERA staff would look to the commission for guidance on how to evaluate any proposed alternatives, EERA said.