Xcel Map

Proposed power line routes in the area. Image courtesy of Xcel Energy.

MANKATO — Xcel Energy is looking to build 40 to 50 miles of large-scale power lines through four counties to reduce energy costs for energy companies and customers alike.

Xcel wants to connect its Wilmarth substation northeast of Mankato to a substation owned by ITC Midwest near Blue Earth. 

Company officials say the project is necessary to upgrade the region's electrical grid to accommodate an increase in electrical demand as well as more infrastructure to move power generated from wind farms in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

"The energy is just not moving because of congestion," said Tim Carlsgaard, communications manager for Xcel Energy. "There's just too much (energy), and not enough capacity along these lines."

Energy experts anticipated a need for more power lines in the area in 2009 as more wind projects cleared the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) project schedule. MISO oversees power transmission across 15 states and includes the Midwest, down into Louisiana and north into Manitoba.

With so much extra energy and not enough infrastructure to move it, utility companies are forced to buy more expensive energy; those costs are then passed onto consumers.

The Xcel project involves building 345-kilovolt lines along highways and ditches where possible. There are three proposed routes to move power from Wilmarth through the greater Mankato area outskirts.

Some of the proposed lines could follow existing powerlines or even replace them. A potential rout moving west around North Mankato would follow a 345-kilovolt line already in place. Another proposed route would follow a 161-kilovolt line near Good Thunder.

The existing 345-kilovolt line was built more than four decades ago, and the 161-kilovolt line was built more than 60 years ago.

Xcel representatives have worked with area city and county officials on potential routes. Company officials gave a presentation to the North Mankato City Council last week; they'll speak with the Mankato City Council Monday night and the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Some people have already expressed concerns over how the project would impact nearby neighborhoods and farm land, according to Carlsgaard. The company plans to take feedback on proposed routes and work with landowners to solve any issues. 

City Administrator John Harrenstein said North Mankato officials don't have enough information to support or oppose the additional power lines, but if the project impacts local neighborhoods then the City Council will "definitely form an opinion."

The project is by no means a done deal, however. Though Xcel has cleared the project with MISO, the company will narrow down its multiple proposed lines to two routes before officials submit the project to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The commission will ultimately decide and approve which project is approved, however.

Xcel will host four open houses next week in Mapleton and Mankato so residents can discuss their concerns. More than 25 employees will answer questions from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. on June 20 at the Maple River High School cafeteria. They'll meet with residents in Mankato at the Courtyard by Marriott Event Center from noon to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. June 21.

There will be no formal presentation, but officials will answer questions and record concerns from residents. Detailed aerial maps of each proposed route will go up on display later this week at www.huntleywilmarth.com.

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