The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Dodge County Wind Project proposed by Dodge County Wind LLC (DCW) is anticipated to be completed and available in June, according to an April 18 decision on the scope of the EIS signed by an assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
As noted in the decision, the project would generate up to 170 MW of electric energy and deliver to the electrical grid at Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s (SMMPA) existing Byron substation via a newly built 345-kV transmission line.
The proposed large wind energy conversion system (LWECS) consists of up to 70 turbines to be located in Dodge and Steele counties, the department said, adding that the LWECS also includes underground electric collection lines, a new collector substation, an operation and maintenance building, permanent meteorological towers, as well as gravel access roads.
DCW proposes to build between 21 and 26 miles of 345-kV, high-voltage transmission line (HVTL) in Dodge and Olmsted counties to connect the LWECS to the grid, the department said, noting that DCW has proposed two possible routes for the line, with several segments common to both proposed routes.
DCW proposes to use single-circuit, monopole structures with heights of 80 to 140 feet, and spans of about 400 to 1,200 feet between structures. The department also said that for the majority of the proposed routes, DCW proposes a typical right of way (ROW) of 150 feet, with a narrower ROW – about 75 feet – for portions that are within road ROW.
DCW is requesting a route width of 1,500 feet for the majority of either proposed route, with a wider route width of 3,000 to 4,000 feet along certain segments of the proposed routes, the department said, adding that DCW anticipates that construction would begin this year, with an in-service date for the project in 2020.
Discussing the public scoping meeting and comment period, the department noted that commenters expressed concern about various potential impacts associated with the LWECS and HVTL portions of the project, including impacts to agriculture, public safety, noise, aviation, aesthetics, wildlife, sensitive natural communities, property values, local economies, as well as the overall character of the community.
In addition to the two specific route alignment alternatives that were proposed for consideration in the EIS during the notice comment period, several commenters at the public meeting and in written comments expressed a desire to see the line routed along U.S. Highway 14 to the extent possible, although none of the comments identified a specific route, the department said.
The department noted that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provided a range of comments on the project related to turbine locations, potential avian and bat fatalities, as well as potential impacts to natural communities from the LWECS and HVTL aspects of the project.
In December 2018, Commerce, Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (EERA) staff provided the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission with a summary of the EIS scoping process, which discussed the routing alternatives that were proposed during the process and identified two additional alignment alternatives – the West 270th Avenue Alignment Alternative and the Salem Creek Alignment Alternative – as well as one short route segment alternative – the West 270th Avenue Crossover Segment – that EERA staff recommended for evaluation in the EIS.
The department also said that the commission, in an April 15 order, found that the route alternatives proposed by EERA staff were reasonable and appropriate for further analysis in the EIS. The order also directed the department to analyze routes along the existing 161-kV and 69-kV transmission lines to the north of DCW’s proposed routes and that the analysis consider double-circuiting of the proposed 345-kV transmission line with the existing 161-kV and 69-kV transmission lines; the additional routes proposed by the commission cross the cities of Dodge Center and Kasson.
The department added that the commission – while acknowledging the potential difficulties of routing a large new transmission line along existing transmission infrastructure – directed review of the northern alternatives to build a thorough record on a range of route alternatives in order to resolve outstanding questions and enable the commission to reach a better routing decision.
Among other things, the department said that the EIS will evaluate the routes and alternative route segments proposed in DCW’s route permit application – referred to in the application as Routes A and B – as well as these routes and alternative route segments:
- West 270th Avenue Alternative Alignment, which is within the requested route width but along a different alignment than presented in the route permit application, moving the alignment from the road to a field line west of 270th Avenue
- Salem Creek Alignment Alternative, which was proposed by citizens to avoid a residential area along 670th Street southeast of Kasson. This alternative is within the requested route, but south of the proposed alignment along 670th Street
- West 270th Avenue Crossover Segment, which was developed by EERA staff and could allow the route to parallel the existing 345-kV and 161-kV transmission line into the Byron substation on the east side of the route, while avoiding the residential area along 670th Street, as well as the slopes and wooded area along the north fork of Salem Creek
- Route D/69-kV Alternative, which was developed by EERA staff in response to the commission’s order to study alternative routes that follow existing transmission lines. This 21.7-mile alternative follows Route A eastward about 5.9 miles from the substation and then turns north to parallel Minnesota Highway 56 for about 2.5 miles. The route then turns westward along a field line for about one-half mile to avoid the Highway 56/Highway 14 interchange, before turning north for about 0.9 mile to cross Highway 14 and connect to the double-circuit, 69-kV/161-kV transmission line along the railroad. This route follows the shared 69-kV/161-kV line for about 0.3 miles, before turning north and then east, following the existing 69-kV transmission line for 11.6 miles towards the Byron substation. This alternative shares two segments in common with the 161-kV alternative
- Route C/161-kV Alternative, which was developed by EERA staff in response to the commission’s order and follows Route A eastward about 5.9 miles from the substation and then turns north to parallel Minnesota Highway 56 for about 2.5 miles. This 21-mile route then turns westward along a field line for about one-half mile to avoid the Highway 56/Highway 14 interchange before turning north for about 0.9 miles to cross Highway 14 and connect to the double-circuit, 69-kV/161-kV transmission line along the railroad. This route follows the shared 69-kV/161-kV line for about 0.3 miles, and then continues generally eastward, with a jog to the north to avoid the Dodge Center airport, following the existing 161-kV line for about 10.9 miles to the Byron substation. This alternative shares two segments in common with the 69-kV alternative
The department also said that the EIS will not consider certain matters, including impacts or mitigative measures associated with specific LWECS tower or road locations for the proposed project and alternatives, as well as the manner in which landowners are paid for LWECS easements or transmission line ROW easements.