Massive power line to run through Oronoco Township

Date: 18 Jul 2011 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Original date: March 30, 2011

By Ken Hanson
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

 A 17-story power line in their backyard.

That’s what some Oronoco Township residents face should CapX2020’s high-voltage transmission project — one of the most ambitious expansions of Minnesota’s transmission grid ever — run through their land.

"Why put it through a scenic area?" said Paige Collins, a member of the Oronoco Township planning commission, which is taking the lead on dealing with the power line. "Why take it through our valleys and across the only sports lake in the area?"

The proposed route crosses the Zumbro River at Lake Zumbro, the former location of the Sandy Point Supper Club. The proposed route follows Olmsted County Road 12. Township officials would prefer that if follow U.S. 52.

Oronoco Township residents are among thousands of Minnesotans in the path of the 600-mile line that would run from Brookings, S.D., to La Crosse, Wis., carrying energy generated in the west from, the company says, a mix of coal and wind.

CapX2020, which consists of 11 electrical companies including Xcel Energy and Dairyland Power Cooperative, wishes to construct the $1.7 billion project in 2013 and start the flow of energy in 2015.

They say the upgrade is needed to serve the region’s growing population, as the last major upgrade of the region’s electric transmission infrastructure took place 30 years ago.

They’ve cleared a number of hurdles in Minnesota, winning preliminary approval from the state Public Utilities Commission and a Minnesota Court of Appeals case against the Citizens Energy Task Force, which opposes the line. They still face a battle in Wisconsin, where their application for power lines that would span the Mississippi River at Alma, Wis., was recently ruled incomplete. The application process, and a technical review, are ongoing.

Waking up

The proposal sneaked up on many Oronoco Township residents, when the"preferred route" was changed last year. The original plan, presented to Oronoco officials in 2007, had the preferred route running well north of the township.

"There hasn’t been a lot of communication from CapX2020, even with affected residents — homes within the 150-foot easement," Collins said.

Township officials have tried to inform residents in ways including the placement of signs saying, "No CapX2020 ‘Preferred Route" — Massive Powerlines To Chicago Don’t Belong In Oronoco Township!"

Collins said she anticipates a grass-roots effort once residents awaken to the implications of the power line.

"People will get up and make their emotional pitches," she said. "That’s sometimes the way to make arguments; if nothing else, it can get (CapX2020) to look at alternatives."

The Oronoco Township board plans to focus on the power-line project at its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Oronoco Community Center.

The township has hired Rochester engineering consultant McGhie and Betts Inc. to study impacts and alternatives, including the possibility of having the powerline run along the U.S. 52 corridor.

Concerns around Mazeppa

Jim and Jeannie Schreader, who raise Black Angus cattle on a century-old family farm south of Mazeppa, are closely following developments with the CapX2020 project even though a route that would bisect their farm is being termed an"alternate."

They’re concerned about the impact on their property values, and about the safety of driving machinery under a 345-kilovolt cable.

Despite being on an alternate route, they’ll be presenting official comments this spring about impacts on their land and livelihood should a high-voltage line go through.

"The next few months are going to be pretty intense," Jeannie Schreader said.

What’s next

Oronoco Township board meeting, 7 p.m., Monday, April 4, Oronoco Community Center

John Farrell
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John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.