Powerline project seeks approval

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/28/01.

Last week, Xcel Energy asked the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to approve its request to invest $13 million to improve the electric transmission line between Willmar and Paynesville.

A new 230-kilovolt (kV) line, stretching more than 30 miles, would replace the existing 115-kV line that dates back to the 1930s. The transmission line runs from the substation south of Willmar to the substation north of Paynesville.

In the Paynesville area, the line runs along the Tri-County Road, which turns into the Roseville Road west of town, and then cuts across the river to the substation.

Of the total cost, the power line is expected to cost $8.5 million, and Xcel expects to spend $4.5 million to double the capacity of the Paynes-ville substation.

Because the new line would be built in virtually the same corridor as the existing line, Xcel Energy is requesting an MEQB exemption from the lengthy routing process required for new power lines.

“This new line will have minimal impact on people and the environment, which is the criteria under which an exemption may be granted,” said Pam Rasmussen, permitting analyst for Xcel Energy. “The old, deteriorating, double wooden poles will be replaced by single steel pole structures that we believe will be more attractive and reduce land-use impacts.”

Xcel Energy officials have spoken to nearly 200 property owners along the route to explain the need for the project and its impact on their homes and farms. “Their reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Greg Schneider, a senior right-of-way agent at Xcel Energy. “We plan to work with anyone who might have concerns about the project.”

Xcel Energy is sending each property owner a copy of the MEQB application, and landowners will have 60 days to relay any comments or concerns to state officials. Landowners can also request a public hearing by asking the MEQB. Other residents may ask for a public hearing, but MEQB gets to decide on the request if it isn’t from a property owner.

The transmission improvement project was originally requested by Willmar Municipal Utilities, Great River Energy, and local rural cooperatives to meet growing electricity demand in west central Minnesota and to improve the reliability of electrical service. “We’ve experienced outages and voltage dips with the current system,” said Mike Nitchals of Willmar Municipal Utilities. “We hope the MEQB sees this as an opportunity to streamline the approval process for improved power lines so we don’t end up with California-style problems.”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimated that Minnesota could run into electrical supply problems by 2005 without new investment in power lines and plants. Great River Energy estimates that demand for electricity is growing four percent per year in the Willmar/Paynesville area.

“The need is definitely there,” said Rasmussen. “We at Xcel Energy are prepared to invest what’s needed to provide a bright future for Willmar, Paynesville, and the surrounding areas.”

If MEQB approval is granted, the project still needs to be approved at the local level, including the townships of Irving, Roseville, and Paynesville. If approval proceeds as expected, Xcel could begin construction in 2002 and finish in 2003.

The cost of the project will be funded through a capital improvement fund at Xcel Energy, and should not affect electricity rates, Rasmussen said.

(Michael Jacobson compiled this report.) Return to Archives