Thursday, tomorrow, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will take up the rulemaking, Minn. R. Ch. 7849 and 7850, that’s been ongoing since 2012. 

Agenda Meeting

Public Utilities Commission

Large Hearing Room — 3rd Floor

121 – 7th Place East

St. Paul, MN

Watch Live Webcast HERE!

The Commission will consider the draft rules, below, and decide whether to move the process forward (in itty bitty steps) and release the rules for public comment and a hearing (and we’ll need 25 requests for a hearing to get that hearing), or to send us back to the drawing board, or revise themselves, request public comment, or “take other action as the Commission deems appropriate.”  See the last pages of Briefing Papers for these options in detail.

Yes, since 2012 — that’s 5 years in the making, an unreasonably long time.  But wait, it gets worse — the enabling legislation is the 2005 Transmission Omnibus Bill from Hell!  That’s particularly galling because the 2005 legislative changes were enacted to pave the way for CapX 2020, and all of CapX 2020 was rammed through without rulemaking covering these changes.  GRRRRRRRRRRR.  I like to encourage clients to carry on with the process after our immediate issue is resolved, because who knows better how the Certificate of Need and Siting/Routing process works than those who have been through it, but 5 years?!?!  12 years?!?!  Some of these things I’ve been on the Commission about for over 20 years, particularly notice issues.

The existing rules:


And the proposed drafts that the Commission will consider:

20173-129606-01_Briefing Papers

20173-129606-02_Draft Ch. 7849 – Certificate of Need

20173-129605-01_CoN_Legislative Changes

20173-129606-03_Draft Ch. 7850 – Siting/Routing

20173-129605-02_Siting-Routing_Legislative Changes

Certificate of Need

An issue right up front is in the definitions in Certificate of Need rules, where a “transmission company” is a “utility.”  Draft Minn. R. 7849.0010, Subp. 32.This is problematic because a Certificate of Need is the “need” determination necessary for use of power of eminent domain.  A “transmission company” has a private purpose, not a public purpose, and should not have access to eminent domain.  This change should not be made, and if it is, should only after thoughtful consideration abut the meaning of the change.

Another issue, which is in line with statutory changes, is the use of “the region” as a consideration for an determination of impact of denial of the application upon “future adequacy, reliability, or efficiency of energy supply to the applicant, to the applicant’s customers, or to the people of Minnesota and the region.  Draft Minn. R. 7849.0120.  This regional aspect has an impact on the Commission’s jurisdiction, and on the weight the Commission gives to MISO review and “approval” of transmission, which is very different from the review and approval performed by the Commission.  Where it’s regional need, how does that mesh with the Commission’s responsibility to the residents and ratepayers of Minnesota?  When “efficiency of energy supply” is at issue, how is the inherent inefficiency of transmission taken into account, particularly over the long distances contemplated by regional planning and buildout?

There’s a 10 day Comment period for the CoN Environmental Report which should be longer than 10 days, that’s a bit too tight!

Siting and Routing

There are quite a few provisions for additional notice — more notice is always good.  Lack of notice was an issue in both CapX 2020 Brookings and Hampton-La Crosse dockets.  Previously, the applicants were allowed to submit route alternatives very late, even a day before the public hearings, where people had no notice and no idea what the process was or how to participate.  I’ve made oral and written motions to extend intervention deadlines for these people to be able to jump in, and the motions were denied. Another notice issue is that where alternatives routes/sites are added, now they may not be added after the scoping decision is issued.  This means that people will get notice in a more timely manner.  AND, notice upon adding alternatives for consideration MUST be given.  Previously, there was no requirement, and when people would say, “Hey, we didn’t get notice,” Commerce would say, “Oh, well, there’s no requirement.”  ENOUGH!  These draft rules would require that they get notice.  DOH!  This is a no brainer, and very glad to see this in the draft.

The timing has been improved in a couple areas — look at the charts at the end of the Briefing Papers.  The timing of release of the DEIS and FEIS is improved, but remains an issue, because the Draft EIS can be released up until the time of the Public Hearings, meaning just before and people won’t have time to review prior to the hearings.  On the other hand, the draft rules do provide for a comment period for the Final EIS, which hadn’t happened previously.  In several dockets I’ve worked on, the FEIS was not available until AFTER the public hearing and AFTER comment period had closed, and there was no way to raise adequacy issues with the FEIS.  Twice, or maybe three times, I’ve made motions to keep the comment period open, but was denied.

I’d like to see a more beefed up rule, or a broader interpretation, of the Public Advisor’s role, because on the routing road shows, I’ve had to ask questions in the meeting to get the Public Advisor to explain the participation options.  Public Advisors do get in the groove and let people know about Participant and Intervenor roles, volunteering for Citizen Advisory Task Force, and what they can do, but this shouldn’t have to be pulled out of the Public Advisor.  What people have told me, over and over, is that the information about participation options is not volunteered, that they have to know the questions to ask, and that they feel that is not fair, that the Commission and Commerce should volunteer information to help them speak up and be heard.

Citizen Advisory Task Force has morphed into something unrecognizable over the last 20 years.  These days, membership is limited to representatives of local units of government, and whether that limitation is by Commerce, or the facilitator, it has not been limited by the Commission, and it’d be useful for the Commission, in authorizing Task Forces, to specifically state that participation on a Task Force is NOT strictly limited and that members of the public are welcome to apply and participate.

There’s more, but I’m trying to keep it simple for tomorrow.  There ARE some positive changes, things we’ve been raising for a long, long time.  But there are some very important things missing here.

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