Swedzinski: Xcel lines should not be built

People attending Marshall meeting ask for energy company, PUC to reconsider proposal to install 345-kilovolt line in region

Photo by Deb Gau Representatives of Xcel Energy, including Matt Langan, right, answers questions from the public before the start of a meeting in Marshall on Wednesday night. A public comment period at the meeting was part of the review process for Xcel’s permit application on a proposed 345-kilovolt transmission line running from Becker to Garvin.

MARSHALL — A proposed electric transmission line running from Sherburne County to Lyon County is raising concerns for many area residents. A packed crowd at a public meeting Wednesday night urged representatives of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Xcel Energy to consider how the project would affect their farms and families.

“The process of making these decision where we’re running these lines is very critical to all of us, especially in what we do here in the land,” Brian Hicks said. “I’m just really encouraging you to take this serious, because it impacts us greatly.”

A few different speakers at the meeting — including state Rep. Chris Swedzinski — said the lines should not be built at all.

“I think Xcel is making a mistake shutting down the coal-fired plants,” Swedzinski said at the public comment session. “Give us more than just two choices. Give us a third, to just say no.”

Xcel Energy has applied for state permits to build a proposed 345-kilovolt electric transmission line running from Becker to a new substation near Garvin. Xcel spokespeople said the project would make it possible to connect with sources of wind energy in southwest Minnesota, to replace the coal-fired Sherco power plant in Becker.

Two possible routes have been proposed for the transmission lines. One route roughly follows the path of Minnesota Highway 23 between Willmar and Marshall, before turning south toward Garvin. The other proposed route approaches Lyon County from the east, through Redwood County.

“At this early point in the process, there is no preferred route between the two,” said Matt Langan of Xcel Energy

Part of the review process for Xcel’s permit applications includes public meetings, written comment periods, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and hearings conducted by an administrative law judge, said Scott Ek of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to help determine the scope of the EIS.

Members of the public at the meeting could comment on the human and environmental impacts of the transmission line that should be studied, said Andrew Levi, environmental review manager with the Minnesota Commerce Department. Commenters were also encouraged to suggest alternatives that would help address those impacts.

Several members of the public said they were concerned about the effects of soil compaction from construction of the power lines, and the possibility of stray voltage affecting their homes or cattle. Lyon County resident Dan Wambeke said he and others living near the CapX 2020 power lines in the area have already experienced those problems.

“We are united in the feeling that it would be an unjust and unreasonable burden to ask us to support another high-voltage power line in our vicinity,” Wambeke said. He presented a petition asking the PUC to remove part of one of the proposed routes, between Highway 23 north of Marshall and Highway 19 east of Marshall, from consideration. “This is the section of the power line, or of the route, that interacts with CapX.”

Other commenters, like Hicks, shared concerns on how the proposed lines would affect the environment and the land in their neighborhoods.

“We’ve got native prairie ground, we’ve got environmental easements, and drainage systems that all have to be taken into account. And without the drainage, it really hinders our ability to be profitable,” Hicks said.

Mike Truwe, of rural Tracy, said one proposed route for a connector line ran very close to his property.

“The line, the right of way, would basically remove a whole front row of trees in front of my property,” he said. “If it were to be moved a half mile down the road, to 310th Avenue — no one lives on that run, and it’d be working with the same landowners, so there’s no change there.”

Lisa Dallenbach said one of the proposed routes ran close to her home north of Walnut Grove.

“Same as everybody else, I’m worried about the stray current. Because I’ve heard of fellow farming rock pickers being subjected to stray currents when they pick rock,” Dallenbach said. “I do a lot of rock picking, probably three or four weeks as soon as we get the crop put in, and I’m not super excited because we farm the piece where the line is going to be.”

Dallenbach also shared Hicks’ concerns about how the lines could affect the environment near the Cottonwood River. The area gets wildlife like trumpeter swans, bald eagles and migratory birds that could be affected by the power lines, she said.

Dallenbach said she wanted the PUC to address the fact that Xcel could potentially take property for the transmission lines through eminent domain.

“Because it is a public utility, and it’s trying to do what’s best for the public, I have no say. You guys can come within 50 feet of my house. Nothing I can do about it. And that should frustrate all of us landowners, that we don’t have a choice,” Dallenbach said. “We don’t want our land stolen from us. We’ve worked hard for it.”

“If a public utility such as Xcel Energy gets a route permit from the Commission, they can use the provisions in eminent domain,” Ek said. However, before that could happen the Commission would first need to determine there was a need for the project, and go through the route permit process. That was why it was important for the public to give feedback and suggest alternatives.

“During the comment period, we really want to see alternate routes,” he said.

Swedzinski told the Independent he had heard concerns from constituents about the proposed transmission line. It was one reason why he was attending the meeting.

“People are largely not wanting it,” Swedzinski said. The transmission line proposal was seen as the first step toward a more power lines crossing the state in the name of green energy, he said. “The people that are against coal, they don’t have to see any of this,” Swedzinski said.

EIS scoping meetings will continue to be held in the project region this week and next week. On Thursday, meetings will be held at Max’s Grill in Olivia and the Redwood Area Community Center in Redwood Falls. The Olivia meeting starts at 11 a.m., with doors opening at 10 a.m. The Redwood Falls meeting starts at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5 p.m.

Written comments on the project’s environmental impact are also being accepted. Written comments must be submitted by Feb. 21.


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