Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Transmission Line


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Stated Purpose:

This line is being constructed in order to improve reliability and meet growing energy demands in the Twin Cities, Rochester, and La Crosse areas. As designed, the line will also improve access to generation in southeastern Minnesota. This project represents the largest transmission investment the region has seen in a generation, and is part of the greater CapX2020 transmission initiative.

Line Capacity:

345 kV, 161 kV

Route Description:

The approved Minnesota route stretches 80 miles from Hampton to Rochester. From there the line will cross the Minnesota border near Alma, Wisconsin. As approved, the route will follow Highway 52 between Hampton and Pine Island, crossing the Zumbro river near White Bridge Road.

An additional line is proposed to connect the North Rochester substation with the North Hills substation in Rochester. This smaller line is expected to extend anywhere from 15 to 18 miles, depending on the route chosen. This route has also been approved.

The Route Permit for the Minnesota portion of this line was approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in April 2012. More than 80% of the land affected by this line is agricultural. 

The approved Wisconsin route covers 48 miles, from Alma to Holmen. A significant portion of the route, 27 miles, will follow Highway 35 along an existing transmission corridor used by Dairyland Cooperative.

The final route will be the result of work done by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The process will include consideration of comments from all participating parties, as well as landowners. Much of the feedback considered will be received during public meetings and hearings investigating route alternatives.

Development Time Line:

Construction on the Minnesota portion of this line began in January of 2013.

A host of utilities are participating in this project. In Minnesota, those utilities are the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Xcel Energy, Rochester Public Utilities and Dairyland Power Cooperative. In Wisconsin, participating utilities are WPPI, Xcel Energy, and Dairyland Power Cooperative. The project development agreement between the utilities was signed in March of 2007, and amended in 2012.

In Minnesota, the Certificate of Need was applied for in 2007 and granted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on April 16, 2009 for all three projects - including the 345 kV portion of the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse line.

The Route Permit application, filed on January 19, 2010, was approved in May of 2012. The Route Permit for the shorter 161 kV line was filed separately and was approved at the same time. Minnesota also requires an Environmental Impact Statement, the final version of which was released in September of 2011.

In Wisconsin, a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application was filed on January 3, 2011. The application was approved and the certificated awarded in May of 2012. CapX2020 utilities held community meetings to address routing issues, while the Wisconsin Public Service Commission will hold public hearings on any proposed route throughout early 2012.  

Construction on the Hampton substation began in July, with work previously already underway on a substation close to Pine Island, near the Rochester portion of the route.

Each participating utility must vote to proceed before construction can start. The CapX group plans to begin construction in 2013, wrapping up in at the end of 2015.

Regulatory Process:

This project requires permits from both Minnesota and Wisconsin regulators.

Minnesota requires both a Certificate of Need and a Route Permit before construction is to begin. The Certificate of Need was granted in April of 2009. The Route Permit was applied for in January of 2010; the administrative law judge issued her route recommendation in February of 2012. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the applied for route permit on April 12, 2012.

Wisconsin requires that any proposed transmission developer attain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity prior to construction. The initial application was filed in December of 2010. This latter certificate was approved on May 10th, 2012. This last decision marked the final step in approving the entire CapX2020 portfolio.

A total of three Environmental Impact Statements are written during routing. Statements are required by both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The final version of Wisconsin's EIS, covering the segment stretching from Alma to La Crosse, has been released.

An additional EIS will be conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The latter requirement is triggered by the project's crossing of the Mississippi River. This development is now part of a pilot project, in which the federal government intends to streamline the permitting process by urging federal agencies to better coordinate in the interest of efficient approval. A rapid response task force is now responsible for coordinating the permitting and review schedules of various federal agencies involved in the process.

The Rural Utilities Service is the lead agency for this project. The first steps they take is to develop a draft environmental impact statement, which is now available for comment. You can find more information regarding the federal decision making process here.

In early 2014, a bill was proposed in Wisconsin that would change the way that the Department of Natural Resources conducts its permitting process. The legislation would require the department to approve or deny a permit within 30 days of filing.

Developer:

Xcel Energy

Community Feedback:

As with many proposed transmission projects, affected citizens are vocally questioning the need for additional lines. Many argue that demand has not increased to a level requiring additional transmission capacity, and suggest that the potential for importing power will have the end result of hurting the local economy. Some also suggest that involved utilities have failed to consider reasonable alternatives. Health concerns have emerged as well, with some agencies requesting that the Wisconsin Public Service Commission investigate health effects from electromagnetic frequency (EMF) before approval. Potentially impacted landowners have also criticized the aesthetic design of the project, arguing that the massive power poles chosen by Xcel Energy are unnecessary.

The segment running from Rochester, MN to Holmen, WI has seen the most opposition. Opponents there claim that the Public Service Commission used both erroneous information and unfair procedures when approving the project. They complain that the project is too costly, and are disappointed in the lack of cost benefit analysis accompanying filings. Dane County, Wisconsin Circuit Court judge denied an appeal by Citizens' Energy Task Force (CETF) to reconsider the PSC decision to approve CapX2020 based on a legal technicality. CETF had asserted the line was not needed, would lead to negative health impacts, and would diminish the aesthetics of the surrounding region. 

Oronoco township and others have filed appeals to shift the approved route of the project. Those appeals were rejected by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the original route was reaffirmed. An appeal was also denied by the Minnesota Supreme Court, specifically one that sought to change the route in relation to the Zumbro river. Concerns have also been raised about the payment rates quoted to landowners by the developer, as some feel that the amount does not match with other estimates. 

Many, however, are resigned to the fact that the line will be built and are now focusing their efforts on the siting process. Reluctant landowners feel that the best route would follow existing lines or highways. With two distinct routes proposed, landowners on both sides are fighting vigorously to ensure that their region is not chosen. Many citizens have turned their attention to neighbors instead of project developers, with concerns regarding both aesthetic NIMBY-ism and the potential for diminished property values. In other cases, like with the city of Holland, residents are wondering why this project--which is already set and under construction--cannot have other projects added on top of it.

Much of the opposition being directed toward this line is also being directed toward the La Crosse-Madison (Badger-Coulee) transmission project. 

Municipalities affected by the project will be compensated for hosting the project through payments by the developer. Local governments will receive an environmental impact fee, as well as an annual impact fee. For the former, the payment rate will vary based on the amount of land used within the jurisdiction as well as the total cost of the project. For the latter, fourteen local governments in Wisconsin will receive yearly payments totaling $540,000 for each municipality. Buffalo County, for example, will receive more than $2.3 million from impact fees and other payments. This financial support is a strong positive for many rural, local governments and has boosted support for the project in some areas.

Two citizens groups--Citizen Energy and Save Our Unique Lands--contend that the line will cause reliability problems unless the line is extended to Madison, WI. Because of these issues, they are petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to delay construction of the line. There has also been some contention on whether the approved route should be used, or if the developer should fall back to the alternative route. In July 2013, FERC ruled that the claims were not fully supported by engineering data, and that the complaints should have been raised at the appropriate time when the project was initially being evaluated. As a result, FERC threw out the complaints against the project. In 2014, both groups wanted the case reopened, claiming they'd found new information that proved there was no need for the project.

Recent decisions by the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Legislature upheld and expanded the states' Buy the Farm law passed in 1973. In addition to landowners having the option to sell their entire property to a utility rather than just a specified easement, they may now apply for additional reimbursement for relocation--such as organic certification.

The town board of Onalaska, WI has asked Xcel Energy for a bond totalling $2 million to pay for any potential damage that increased truck traffic could have on local roads. Developers have made other compromises with local residents, like agreeing to shift the project so that it would run parallel to the Douglas State Trail.

The Buffalo County Law Enforcement Committee has asked that the $500,000 million that the developers of the CapX2020 project will pay in environmental impact fees be used to make upgrades to local law enforcement resources. The funds are intended to go to parks, conservation, and other environmental projects for counties.

Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL) of Kickapoo and the Citizens Energy Task Force have asked regulators to reopen the case for the line, citing that there is further study required concerning the need for the line--they claim that need for electricity is down, and that the line will not be used in the right way. The Public Service Commission (PSC) denied the request in mid-February 2014.

Officials for the CapX2020 project said that they do not expect any loss in service as the new lines are being put up. They also note that a new substation that is part of the project should help put an end to past requests that customers cut down on energy use on hot days.

Clean Energy Potential:

The developer and industry groups note that the line and the entire CapX2020 project offers a chance to connect wind farms along the path, and allow the energy to be sent to neighboring states that are seeking to purchase the power to meet renewable standards. CapX2020 provides a path for some of the biggest wind energy producers in the nation to sell their energy to a larger market. Updating the transmission is expected to cost member utilities more than $5.5 billion by 2015.

A primary concern voiced by the opposition is that this line will be used to import coal-generated electricity from areas of Minnesota. Demonstrating that this line will be used to transport clean energy resources will quell much of this opposition, but for whatever reason this claim hasn't yet been made. However, CapX2020 utilities are have pointed out that this line provides enough reliability to act as a clean alternative to the oil-burning generators currently used as a backup energy supply in the region.

An economic impact study conducted by the University of Minnesota Duluth estimated that nearly 8,000 construction jobs would be created from the project, and that every dollar spent for the CapX2020 project would help to stimulate $1.93. The project has made about $8 million in purchases from one local steel company in Minneapolis, and involves up to 40 employees a year on the project order.

Significantly, CapX utilities had planned to add two 161 kV lines from Alma. Once they realized that this would hamper the amount of wind the project could carry, they decided to upgrade to installing two 345 kV lines. This decision increases the amount of wind energy that can be transported on this line by 1,200 megawatts. It is important to note that much of the wind placed on these lines will be exported from out of state. Because the wind resources are much stronger in Minnesota and the Dakotas, the price of that wind energy is considerably lower than it would be if harvested in Wisconsin.

News Archive:

CapX2020 workers wrapping up extensive wetland pole installatoin March 27, 2014

CapX2020 construction resumes March 26, 2014

With new lines, no more cutting back on hot days March 14, 2014

CapX2020 project to be finished in 2015 March 14, 2014

County money to city may come with a twist March 13, 2014

Utilities Are Split Over Bill Changing Transmission Line Permitting Process February 24, 2014

Transformer is giant piece of CapX2020 project February 10, 2014

PSC doesn't respond to request to reopen CapX2020 docket February 10, 2014

Groups oppose power lines linking Rochester, La Crosse January 16, 2014

Groups oppose power lines January 14, 2014

Panel: Spend more money on jail staffing December 16, 2013

Concerns over CapX powerline shift to land values September 3, 2013

Power line sparks uproar in Holland August 21, 2013

Minnesota Supreme Court denies CapX2020 appeal August 2013

$500 million Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse power line to energize in 2015 July 26, 2013

CapX2020 compromise protects Douglas Trail July 26, 2013

CapX Hampton substation work starts by Hwy. 52 July 18, 2013

CapX2020 project progressing despite wet spring weather July 18, 2013

Rochester segment of CapX2020 70 percent complete July 18, 2013

Power line foes lose appeal on $500 million transmission line July 15, 2013

CapX trucks spark town road concerns July 13, 2013

Oronoco Township continues to fight CapX transmission line July 11, 2013

Regulator rejects complaints against power lines for Midwestern wind July 8, 2013

Our View: CapX move protects landowners June 16, 2013

CapX2020 Appeals Denied June 12, 2013

Buy the Farm and CapX2020 June 8, 2013

Decision day nears for CapX route May 18, 2013

'Nobody is a winner' in CapX routing dispute May 18, 2013

Will it be the dam or the bridge? May 17, 2013

Citizen groups file petition to stop construction of CapX2020 transmission line March 5, 2013

CapX2020 construction to begin this month January 6, 2013

Rochester board meets to discuss financial aspects of CapX2020 December 12, 2012

Judge rejects review of power line October 30, 2012

Crime and Courts: Power line opponents take PSC to court August 26, 2012

Citizen groups go to court to stop power line August 20, 2012

CapX2020 transmission line opponents file lawsuit in Dane County August 17, 2012

PUC denies consideration for CapX2020 route August 15, 2012

Minnesota coal plant couldn't compete with wind, natural gas August 8, 2012

CapX2020 project enters final stretch July 17, 2012

Regulators deny petitions to reconsider CapX2020 July 12, 2012

Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project approved in Minnesota and Wisconsin July 1, 2012

Xcel files against Oronoco Township on CapX2020 route June 29, 2012

Parties appeal PUC decision on CapX2020 route June 21, 2012

Petitions seek reversal of decision approving CapX2020 transmission line June 19, 2012

CapX2020 power line compensation plan unveiled June 18, 2012

CapX2020 has silver lining for municipalities June 14, 2012

Wisconsin regulators approve portion of CapX2020 transmission line May 14, 2012

CapX2020 line gets key approval May 14, 2012

Wisconsin Public Service Commission endorses $200M CapX2020 line May 11, 2012

CapX route 'still an atrocity,' Holmen administrator says May 11, 2012

Olmsted County seeks new power line route April 25, 2012

Opponents optimistic about stopping CapX2020 project April 20, 2012

PUC votes to keep CapX on Hwy. 52 April 18, 2012

PUC approves last segment of CapX2020 transmission line April 16, 2012

State OKs last piece of new power corridor April 12, 2012

Vernon Electric to vote on CapX2020 resolution March 21, 2012

Energetic debate March 15, 2012

Xcel files response to CapX judge on CF route March 15, 2012

Decision-makers listen to residents at CapX2020 hearings March 13, 2012

Public hearings this week for CapX2020 March 12, 2012

RPU approves moving ahead with CapX2020 project February 29, 2012

Transmission line route set February 25, 2012

CapX judge says to go around CF February 16, 2012

Environmental Impact Statement for CapX2020 transmission line available February 9, 2012

Judge rules on CapX2020 route February 8, 2012

Questions linger over need for new power line February 3, 2012

CapX2020 plan draws crowd in Holmen January 31, 2012

Western Wisconsin hearings set for CapX2020 project January 30, 2012

CapX2020 meeting draws large crowd January 28, 2012

Dairyland Power has preferred route for CapX2020 project January 13, 2012

CapX2020 Opposition January 11, 2012

Feds weigh in on CapX2020 energy transmission project January 9, 2012

CapX2020 progressing December 28, 2011

Public weighs in on proposed routes for power line projects December 19, 2011

La Crosse County Board opposes CapX2020 power line December 16, 2011

Holmen School Board formally opposes CapX2020 November 29, 2011

CapX2020 officials and Wisconsin's Public Service Commission differ on data November 17, 2011

Wisconsin Public Service Commission DEIS questions CapX2020 power line need November 14, 2011

Feds seek to expedite CapX2020 line October 18, 2011

Feds to accelerate permit process for major power lines October 5, 2011

County panel stops short of opposing power line projects October 4, 2011

People protest proposed power line project, CapX2020 October 3, 2011

Power lines have to go somewhere September 24, 2011

Online resources for CapX2020 information September 24, 2011

CapX EIS report at library, on-line September 19, 2011

Notes from CapX2020 meeting August 2, 2011

Judge OKs power line delay July 22, 2011

CapX2020 project working through environmental impacts July 21, 2011

Public Service Commission says CapX2020 application incomplete February 8, 2011

Your Thoughts:

We all know that clean energy transmission is vitally important to our energy future. It brings economic opportunity to rural areas, enables wind development and improves the reliability of your grid. But to build it properly - to create projects that work best for you and your community - requires your knowledge and participation. That's why we've created this database.

Is there a way we can improve? Any changes that will make this a better tool for you? Alternatively, do you have more questions about this line? Would you like to receive our email updates? Send an email to johnathanh@cfra.org and let us know.

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