PUC grants route application for high-voltage power line in Hubbard County
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has issued a permit for a bitterly contested high voltage power line through the heart of Hubbard County.
The PUC granted Great River Energy's application for a 7.25-mile line that would eventually transmit 115 kV of power from a proposed new substation on U.S. Highway 71 north of Park Rapids south and east, connecting to the Mantrap Substation on County Road 4.
The most controversial part of the route follows County Road 18 for several miles.
That is where the most vocal opposition came from.
Disappointed residents have explored retaining legal counsel, claiming the need was never demonstrated for the power line and substation, which is to serve the growing population in the Potato/Island lakes area.
"We started this process to serve our members better, to continue our reliable service that we have on equipment that's overloaded and we're concerned about failing," said Itasca Mantrap Power Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Mike Monsrud.
"We continue to proceed towards those outcomes, to continue to serve our members with reliable service and as cost effective as we can," he added.
According to PUC records, I-M projected 4 percent growth annually since 2002, which would outstrip capacity.
Great River Energy, the power supplier that will build the lines to service I-M's substation, projected future growth at 3 percent annually.
Opponents question whether that historical growth was overstated as the economy stalls and building and renovation has slowed considerably in the lakes area. They contended winter demand, because of the large number of seasonal residents, is especially overstated. Opponents say a fairer growth assessment is around .1 percent.
Sandra Stugelmeyer, on behalf of 134 residents, presented the PUC a statement in opposition to the proposed line. Her parents are among the County Road 18 opponents.
"Itasca-Mantrap's five-year history of 'outages' and GRE's analysis of those outages only prove that they have maintenance problems, not that they need this project in this configuration at this time," she maintained.
The opponents contend their 5th Amendment rights against the unconstitutional taking of property have been violated.
"Private property must not be taken if a public need has not been proven," the opponents wrote the PUC.
Because the power line is less than 10 miles long, it went through a more abbreviated process before the agency. Residents have requested a full-fledged contested hearing.
Four dozen opponents showed up at a public hearing this fall presided over by an administrative law judge who summarized the opposition for the PUC without making any recommendations.
Their concerns were about compensation for property taken, the removal of mature trees and other vegetation, what the power line will do to their property values and their overall proximity to the lines. Many voiced environmental concerns.
The route chosen was the cheapest for the member cooperative, Monsrud said, at $4.4 million. Two alternate routes would have cost $4.5 million or $10.7 million.
The Energy Facility Permitting arm of the PUC concluded the route along County 18 "is a more reasonable and prudent alternative route that best minimizes adverse human and environmental impacts..."
When GRE applied for the transmission line route almost a year ago, the company said." the existing 34.5 kV Itasca-Mantrap distribution system serving the area has reached its capacity limit based on continuous growth of electric demand..."
GRE will send out surveyors next.
"From what I gathered the other day they'll have the surveyors out there so that the land appraisers can know exactly what amount of land and what trees are going to be affected," Monsrud said. "Then they have a staff that goes out there and directly negotiates with each property owner."
No set amount is figured into the compensation. It will depend on a variety of factors.
GRE would compensate homeowners an aggregate amount for their trees, damages from construction, restoration and some decline in property value, officials said during the recent hearing.
"Great River Energy is appreciative of the involvement of the public, agencies, local officials and the state during the Route Permit process for the Potato Lake substation and transmission line," said Michelle Lommel, senior field representat6ive for land rights.
"Through this thorough process, many options were explored," she added. "We feel that the most reasonable route was approved by the Public Utilities Commission."
Opponents have vowed to stall the land acquisition process.
Monsrud acknowledges the bitterness and anger voiced by the opposition.
"This is one of our proactive ways to serve our members better," he reiterated. "It's just like changing transformers out when we know they get overloaded or adding new feeder lines when we know they get overloaded.
Meanwhile, opponents were deciding what their next move would be.
Stugelmeyer implored the PUC to consider the issue of need during the permitting process, not in court.