Transmission line sparks debate

Farm Forum

Sixty-five percent of landowners have signed options that give the Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. permission to construct a 160-mile high-voltage transmission line across their properties, according to Mark Hanson, a senior public relations representative for the company.

“There’s still a lot of work to do yet,” Hanson said.

The transmission line, which will connect substations in Big Stone City and Ellendale, N.D., is one of three such lines approved lately by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

The combined three lines will provide a high-voltage transmission route to Minneapolis/St. Paul. PUC Commissioner Chris Nelson said two of those high-voltage lines are under construction. The line from Big Stone City to Ellendale received PUC approval last month, but officials must now get approval from landowners along the proposed route.

Construction is slated to begin in 2016. The estimated cost of the project is $293 million to $370 million. According to the latest map of the project, the transmission line would run south along the east side of U.S. Highway 281 into the north half of Brown County and cut east through Day County and Grant County before connecting to the Big Stone south substation.

The permit application for this transmission line was first filed Aug. 23, 2013. Approval came a year later on Aug. 22. Nelson said that’s no coincidence. With high-voltage lines, the PUC has a year to consider the application and involves an evaluation as well as a public hearing process that gives affected landowners an opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions.

“As a commission, we greatly appreciate the active involvement of the folks in the area along the line,” Nelson said. “We appreciate the willingness of them to turn out in the public meetings and come to Pierre and provide their feedback on the routing of the line and make suggestions.”

Adjusting the route

While not everyone is happy at this point, Nelson said, there’s still time for some of the issues to be resolved.

Hanson said some route adjustments are under consideration, and officials are willing to work with each landowner on pole placement, but there will become a point where those adjustments can’t happen.

“Our goal is to do as much as we can with the landowners to make it work, but there’s also other factors involved, be it environmental or natural resources easements that are already out there,” Hanson said. “There will be a point where we no longer offer an option payment, and it will just be a straight easement.”

Hanson said this high-voltage line is one of 17 recommended projects by Midcontinent Independent System Operator. Each of the projects aims to fill a gap in the electrical system.

In northeastern South Dakota, Hanson said, this transmission line will provide some relief to the existing electrical infrastructure that is at or near capacity.

“This will really help for future growth,” Hanson said.

Nelson said one area where it can help is with connectivity for renewable energy projects, such as wind energy development. Nelson said several factors go into considering the placement of wind turbines. Not only is placement based on where there’s sufficient wind, but there have to be entities willing to buy the energy produced. Because South Dakota consumes twice as much as it produces, out-of-state entities are typically considered and transmission lines have to be in place to carry the power.

The other two lines under construction run from Big Stone City to White and White to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Addressing concerns

The hearing process for the transmission line from Ellendale to Big Stone City saw an uptick in landowner concerns, Nelson said, but half the ground work was already completed on the Big Stone City to White transmission line and only 10 to 12 miles of the White to Minneapolis line is in South Dakota.

Nonetheless, Nelson said, many landowner concerns were taken into consideration with the approval of this permit, which is evident by the nine pages of conditions that must be followed. Nelson said landowners expressed concerns about high-voltage line interference with GPS systems on tractors, combines and sprayers as well as voltage transfer from the power line to fence lines.

Hanson said there are no health risks in connection to the high-voltage line and Montana-Dakota approached the project with the intent of minimizing the number of homes impacted by this project and placing lines at least 500 feet away from homes.

While the PUC has approved the permit, Nelson said, anyone who notices permit conditions not being followed should notify the PUC.

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