The Minnesota Department of Commerce released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on January 8, 2010 regarding Xcel Energy’s proposed high voltage transmission lines and two new substations along the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. A public meeting to receive comments is scheduled for February 10.
The 463-page document will inform proceedings by an Administrative Law Judge and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regarding a route permit for the transmission lines. The Midtown Greenway Coalition is pleased that an underground route, as compared to an overhead route on 70-foot-tall towers, was identified as a potential mitigation measure for impacts related to land use, structures, safety and health, recreation and tourism, aesthetics, utilities systems, and transportation. On the other hand, these potential mitigation strategies are not stated in the form of recommendations and many steps remain before a route is determined.
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The Midtown Greenway Coalition believes strongly that if the lines do go in, they should go underground, assuming the project cannot be forgone through conservation, renewable energy, load management, and smart grid. Continuing concerns, especially for overhead routes, relate to aesthetics and degrading trail users’ experiences, negative health impacts of electric and magnetic fields, and consigning the area to permanent blight due to loss of developer interest in land along the Greenway. Developers who have constructed new projects lining the west end of the Midtown Greenway tell us that they would not build higher density residential buildings underneath high voltage transmission lines. Unless you’re for urban sprawl and you don’t want development to concentrate along alternative transportation corridors, then overhead high voltage transmission lines along the Greenway are a very big problem. The DEIS recognizes these concerns, stating “Overhead transmission lines may create an industrial appearance in residential and commercial areas and are inconsistent with urban design directions suggested within many of the local land use plans,” and “Visual intrusions created as a result of overhead transmission lines may discourage additional residential or higher density development.”
Regarding environmental justice impacts, one mitigation strategy states “If an underground transmission line route alternative is chosen, distribute the incremental cost of undergrounding the transmission line among a larger base of ratepayers (e.g., state of Minnesota or seven county metropolitan area) to reduce the potential economic hardship on ratepayers in the Project Area.”
The struggle is far from over. In order for the Administrative Law Judge and the PUC to rule that the lines go underground and that local parties don’t get saddled with the extra cost for undergrounding, they must determine that there is no feasible overhead route. Futhermore, state law limits what they may consider when making their determination. Finally, a concern that remains whether the lines are overhead or underground is the possible loss of an important greenspace where a substation is proposed along the Greenway by the Hiawatha LRT Trail and the Sabo Bridge.
People who are interested in this struggle can get involved with the Midtown Greenway Coalition and/or state their interests at public meetings or in writing to the State of Minnesota. We should also all pay close attention to our own electricity consumption, memorizing the kilowatt hours we use at home each month and challenging ourselves to reduce them. Important upcoming public meetings are:
Public Meeting of the MN Dept of Commerce (to receive comments on the DEIS)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
6:00 p.m. at Plaza Verde (1516 East Lake Street, Mpls.)
Public Hearings before an Administrative Law Judge
(for the public to speak, present evidence, ask questions, and make comments)
April 5 and 6, 2010, at 2:00 p.m. and again at 7:00 p.m. each day
Location to be announced.
The full DEIS can be called up from the PUC’s web site at http://energyfacilities.puc.state.mn.us/Docket.html?Id=19981.
For updates on the struggle, visit www.midtowngreenway.org.