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Paynesville Press - June 27, 2001

State agency okays power line upgrades

By Michael Jacobson

Xcel Energy's planned improvement of the electrical transmission line moved forward last week with the granting of an exemption to the routing process by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.

Xcel Energy plans to spend $13 million to improve the transmission line from Willmar to Paynesville – turning the 115-kilovolt (kV) line to a 230-kV line, which would quadruple the potential capacity of the line.

The upgraded line is planned for essentially the same corridor as the existing line, except for a small segment in the city of Willmar, which led the power company to apply for an exemption to the lengthy routing process.

The power line is one of the longest to ever get the routing exemption from the MEQB. Environmental review of the project was still done, an MEQB spokesman said, but the exemption allowed the project to be approved without reviewing alternative routes.

Because of all the lakes and because following Highway 23 wasn't desirable, the existing 32-mile route was kept. "Following the existing route," explained Pam Rasmussen, a permitting analyst for Xcel Energy, "for all practical purposes was the best route."

The only rerouting was in Willmar to avoid a residential area. Xcel Energy contacted landowners along the route, explaining the project and the landowner's rights. Any landowner along the transmission line route could have requested a public hearing.

The MEQB received four letters about the project. It received letters of support from a Willmar resident and the city of Willmar. The Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture suggested minor changes to the project in their letters.

Company officials praised the decision for speeding up the project. "It gets us right into the local permitting and design so we can meet our May 2003 deadline," said Rasmussen.

The company still needs to get approval for the project from local governmental agencies, such as Stearns and Kandiyohi counties, the city of Willmar, and local townships. The company plans to start construction in 2002 and finish in 2003.

Also, more detailed engineering plans will be made for the project.

The project is needed, according to the Xcel Energy, to accommodate increasing demand and to provide reliable service. The existing line was built nearly 70 years ago, and periodic voltage dips indicate it can not adequately carry the needed power. Company officials believe the power line is near the end of its useful life.

In addition, power demand in the area is growing by nearly four percent per year. Local power companies – including cooperatives in Meeker and Kandiyohi – have given support to the project to meet the increasing demand.

The project – which the company says will be funded by its capitol budget and not through a rate increase – includes $8.5 million for the transmission line and $4.5 million for improvements at the Paynesville substation. The substation will need to be expanded and a 230-kV transformer added.

In the Paynesville area, the transmission line runs along the Tri-County Road, which becomes Roseville Road west of town. Then it cuts across the river and to the substation north of town.

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