BLUE EARTH - A transmission line project to improve electrical capability across a two-state area is one step closer to reality.
Representatives from ITC met with commissioners from Faribault and Martin counties Wednesday to update them on the Minnesota-Iowa 345 kV Project.
Lori Broghammer of ITC Midwest and Steve Thornhill, routing study project manager with Burns & McDonnell, said the project will improve reliability in the region and meet rising demands for energy.
"We use more energy," said Broghammer, listing devices such as laptops and cell phones. "The grid is so congested. This project is very vital to this area."
One end of the project will start in Jackson County, where the size of the Lakefield substation has doubled. From Lakefield, the lines will run across Martin County to Winnebago, then south through Faribault County and into Iowa.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission says a route needs a 1,000-foot corridor for study. Thornhill assured commissioners that the entire 1,000 feet will not be used, rather a 200-foot right-of-way will be used. It could run down the center of the 1,000 feet or to one side.
ITC has conducted more than 40 meetings, with six in Jackson, Martin and Faribault counties. Hundreds attended and ITC received 120 written comments, Broghammer said.
Most people want to see existing lines used and they have concerns about crossing fields, Thornhill said.
Burns & McDonnell was hired to come up with a number of routes. It started with "over 1,000 different combinations that we investigated," Thornhill said.
The firm had to consider things such as going along fence lines, staying away from homes and streams, and trying to follow infrastructure.
"The [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources] is very sensitive to lines crossing Fox Lake," Thornhill noted as one consideration.
The project also calls for switching from the old H-shaped structures to sleeker steel structures that will be 100 to 130 feet tall.
It was decided to decommission a Winnebago substation because it is old and hemmed in, Thornhill said. The proposal includes building a Huntley substation but there are siting issues related to flood plains and a river, meaning plans might need to be adjusted.
Overall, the engineers have narrowed the project down to two routes.
"Route A is the existing line; it has the least impact but has issues with lake crossings that have to be resolved," Thornhill said.
Route B follows roadways, division lines and field lines and meets DNR requirements.
"The routes are not by any means final and are subject to change," Thornhill said. "If you have concerns or questions, please present them to ITC or the [Minnesota] Public Utilities Commission.
"The Public Utilities Commission will determine the final route, but we want to be sensitive to the public's concerns," he added.
If anyone would like to view the routes, maps are available at the libraries in Sherburn, Fairmont, Winnebago and Blue Earth.
Notices will go out in mid to late January and the application will be submitted to the Public Utility Commission in early 2013.
Commissioners wanted to know when the application might be approved, but Broghammer said it entirely up to the state Public Utilities Commission and could take a while.
Thornhill hopes that approval could come as early as October 2013.
In the meantime, Broghammer made a promise:?"When we do make milestones, you guys will be the first to know."