Judge picks route for massive CapX2020 345-kV power line - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Judge picks route for massive CapX2020 345-kV power line over Lake Zumbro

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ST. PAUL/ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- A massive high-voltage power line might soon be built from just north of Pine Island... across the forested north end of Lake Zumbro... through the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest... and right through the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge and across to Alma, Wisconsin. Years of study and debate over the best route have now come to an end.

Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Sheehy issued her final recommendation Wednesday for a route for the CapX2020 project through southeastern Minnesota. It's now up to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to take action on her findings.

It's bitter news for opponents of the 345-kilovolt power line, who have tried to argue that it is not needed. For people who live on the north end of Lake Zumbro, near the hydroelectric dam, the prospect of the power lines cutting through their forest and becoming their everyday view are now very real.

Battle lines had been drawn over the route for the 130 to 175-foot-tall structures and where the power cables should cross the Zumbro River; Oronoco Township pushed for the route on the north end of Lake Zumbro, arguing that a more southerly route near White Bridge Road would impact many more homeowners and hurt future development. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, on the other hand, warned that going along the north end of Lake Zumbro would involve the destruction of beautiful forestlands in a swath through the blufflands of the area.

In short, it appears that the forests and the people who love them are the big losers.

Judge Sheehy concluded that there will be significant environmental damage from the project, but that there does not appear to be anything that can be done about it.

Erin Klegstad, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy, says a swath up to 150 feet wide would be clear-cut for the lines, although the utility will have a 1,000 foot right-of-way to select the path.  Once erected, the high-voltage poses an electrocution danger to migrating birds.

Sheehy found that 26 homes will be within 500 feet of the high-voltage lines, on the selected route along the north end of Lake Zumbro.

In her findings, she writes: "The Applicant should work with the DNR and landowners in the area of the dam crossing to minimize impacts to the environment. Clearing of trees should be limited to only those trees necessary to permit passage of equipment and to maintain the appropriate cleared right-of-way width. The Applicant should also continue to coordinate its plans with the DNR and the Mississippi River Parkway Commission as to matters such as pole placement, pole type, and minimizing vegetation and wildlife impacts in the area near the McCarthy Lake WMA, the Refuge, and the Mississippi River."

The judge sifted through a vast collection of opinions and data to come up with "findings of fact" that form the basis of her recommendations. Much of it embraces the stated needs of the eleven utilities which have formed the partnership for the project. Xcel Energy is the lead utility for this portion of the project, and its unique power grid needs are detailed.

CapX2020 plans call for the construction of a North Rochester Substation to interconnect existing and future electrical lines. It would be a junction point for the existing 345-kV line stretching from Xcel's Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant near Red Wing southwest to Byron, and the future 345-kV line coming from Hampton to the southeast toward La Crosse, Wisconsin. The so-called "Alma Crossing" of the Mississippi was chosen because there is already an existing high-voltage power line in that corridor. The North Rochester Substation also would need to connect to a proposed new 161-kV line to the already existing Northern Hills substation in northwest Rochester.

If the green light is given for the project in southeastern Minnesota, Klegstad says construction will not begin in earnest until 2013.  The whole thing is to be built by the end of 2015.  The cost for the Hampton to Alma part of the project was estimated in 2009 to be up to $243 million.

Read Sheehy's final recommendations here.

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