For months, area electric utility companies Great River Energy, Xcel Energy, along with nine others from the Dakotas to Wisconsin, have held public meetings to explain a proposed power line expansion project called CapX2020.
But a group here in Dakota County is not buying into it. In fact, the Citizens Energy Task Force argues parts of the project are simply not needed. CETA backers say the proposed 345 kilovolt power line that is proposed to come through parts of Eureka and Castle Rock townships and end in Hampton could pose health problems, and certainly decrease property value.
Perhaps most of all, though, CETA members want to make sure that landowners along the route are fairly compensated for the land that the utility companies will acquire for construction of those power lines.
The area townships fall directly in line with two possible routes for what is known as the Brookings-Hampton line, a 200-mile power line that begins in Brookings, S.D., and will connect to a substation in Hampton.
The Brookings-Hampton line is one of three 345 kV lines proposed as part of the CapX2020 project. The others run from Fargo, N.D. to St. Cloud and Monticello, and from Hampton to Rochester and then on to La Crosse, Wis.
A number of meetings have been held as part of the permitting process that accompanies such a large-scale project. In February, an administrative law judge supported a certificate of need, one of the steps required before the project can commence.
Now, the CapX2020 group is deciding on the routes that each power line will take. As part of that process, the Minnesota Office of Energy Security is holding public information and environmental impact statement scoping meetings. According to the public meeting notice, those meetings are designed to give the public information about the project and "to identify issues and alternatives to study in an environmental impact statement." That statement could go a long way in determining just where those power lines will be constructed.
And that is why the CETA members are hoping to get lots of supporters out to those meetings.
Eureka township resident Bev Topp, one of the founders of CETA, says the local grassroots organization has done its own investigations into the need for these lines, and have come up with some solutions. Many of those solutions were presented by CETA and other grassroots organizations during the administrative law judge's review of the certificate of need application. The local group addressed everything from health risks to the size and placement of the power line poles.
CETA attorney Paula Maccabee said the group wants to make sure that other, less costly and more suitable options are considered. The organization claims that demand is not what CapX2020 numbers project, and other options should be pursued.
But one of the biggest issues Maccabee and Topp see landowners facing is their ability to be appropriately compensated for the land the utilities group will acquire for construction of the power lines.
According to the CapX2020 web site, "The CapX2020 utilities will provide fair compensation in the form of a one-time easement payment to property owners who host power lines."
But therein lies the problem, Maccabee said. Current Minnesota law allows utility companies to use eminent domain to get the land they need, but there is nothing built into the law that regulates what "fair compensation" is.
Maccabee said utility companies will give lowball offers for the land they acquire. Landowners have the right to appeal that amount, and even pursue legal recourse, but nothing in the law compensates those landowners for the attorney fees that would require. Often, landowners just choose not to fight and incur those costs.
"The burden of those power lines is going to be placed on the people who live there, rather than those who are the consumers, and that's just not fair," Maccabee said.
The concept is not a foreign one to the area. In 2007, a group of Empire township residents took Great River Energy to court over a 115 kV power line. One homeowner had initially been offered $14,600 for the easement by Great River Energy, but after an appeal received $55,000. The only problem was, a chunk of that award went to the lawyer who fought for the group.
Topp and Maccabee would like to see something built into the state's laws that support landowners' rights, but any such legislation did not get introduced this year, Topp said.
"There's simply not a level playing field," she said.
Two meetings for the Brookings-Hampton line will be held in neighboring communities next week. On Wednesday, April 8, sessions will be held at the Lakeville Holiday Inn from 9 a.m.-noon, 1-4 p.m., and 5-8 p.m. The Holiday Inn is located at 20800 Kenrick Ave., in Lakeville.
Another meeting will be held Thursday, April 9, 5-9 p.m., at Grandpa's Event Center, 31846 65th Ave., in Cannon Falls.
Maccabee said residents with questions should attend those meetings.
"This is your chance to talk about the harms of power lines, fair compensations and to urge them to choose a route that minimizes the harm to people," she said. "If they have things they want the state to consider ... this is the time to do it. It is important that people know about these public meetings and get out there and get their voices heard."