Look at that photo above — see the tree stump just to the right of the right-hand orange cone??? See that new taller powerline pole plopped on the boulevard behind the truck??? It’s our friends at Xcel Energy again.

The City of Northfield’s Engineering Department permitted the mowing down of trees and installation of powerline poles without any notice or public process. WHAT?!?! Yes, really…

The day after election day I got a call, then went to check out the scene, and fired off a Data Practices Act Request, because I couldn’t find anything on any City agenda or anywhere on the interwebs… there was nothing before the Planning Commission or the City Council. This is what I got from the City:

Turns out it was a staff decision, no public process, no notice, no environmental review, nothing, nada…

This powerline project is a second part of a multi-part project, the first was from the Hubers Solar project (so the sign says) east of Northfield on Wall Street…

… with the first part going to 5th Street and Prairie. From there, they’d originally planned to go east on 5th Street…

It’s rather hard to see the yellow line representing the map, click for larger view, or go to p. 13 of Data Request Response) but in essence, it starts on the eastern side of this map at 5th and Prairie, heading west to Washington Street, south to 8th Street, then west to Water, north to 7th, cutting between an apartment building and a strip mall to the Cannon River, running northeasterly along the Cannon and crossing over to the Police/Fire station on south side of 5th, across 5th and straight north through Ames (“goose poop”) Park and heading across Highway 3 directly over an office building and across 3rd Street over or right next to the rehabbed Historic Depot, and across 2nd Street to the substation.

Here’s another problem… the City did push Xcel Energy to use 7th Street rather than 5th Street, ostensibly due to fewer trees to be cut on 5th Street, but there doesn’t seem to be any initiative to utilize the underground electric route under 4th Street. Why not?!?! AND, even more bizarre, the project as permitted ends in front of City Hall, a powerline to nowhere!

In a chat with City Engineering staff, it was readily admitted that this was only part of the powerline project, the first part was built from the solar project on Wall Street to 5th Street; that this was “Phase 2,” that it needed to go further and connect to the 2nd Street substation, and, well, “Phase 3” it seems they do not know how it’s going to get from 8th & Washington to the 2nd Street substation! So what about “Phase 3” and routing through other neighborhoods?

There’s also a big picture planning component here. Northfield requires undergrounding of distribution lines in new subdivisions, it’s been that way for a while. Northfield has also undergrounded powerlines under 4th Street, and I’d imagine others as well. Yet driving around 7th Street, Prairie and 5th, and around City Hall, across 7th to the river, down to Woodley, up Highway 3, Ames Park, there’s a jumble web of powerlines that the City needs to take a look at and develop a plan for getting them underground, for reliability and for aesthetics. Yes, people do tend to zone out and not see the powerlines in their every-day lives, but stop and look, and Northfield has a mess hanging in the air. Just look!

Anyway, here we go… shortly thereafter, yes, onward with a Minnesota Environmental Rights Action challenge to this mess, with an aim toward getting some notice, public process, and environmental review, to get it back to the City, as provided by Minn. Stat. 116B.10.

Summons and Complaint has been served. What a concept… guess it’s a foreign concept where Xcel Energy is concerned, City doesn’t want to look too closely. And after all, it’s for a solar project west of town. Come on, folks, we need to take a closer look here and consider the neighbors, the community. And Phase III of this project? Let’s consider the big picture here!

And some interesting background has floated up. Here’s the application for the USS Hubers Solar project, the one that’s depending on this upgrade and uprate through Northfield to interconnect:

Note that the application for a Rice County Conditional Use Permit says, on p. 22 of 44 (Application above):

Ummmm… I don’t think so… Xcel Energy needs to uprate the system and wants $359,921, p. 35 of 44:

There’s no indication in the Rice County Conditional Permit application or approval docs that they would need a permit from City of Northfield for the uprate. Most permit applications do list other permits that are needed. Not so here, just the Xcel notice that they have to pony up $$ and sign the interconnection agreement. I wouldn’t expect folks other than electric wonks to attach any meaning to that!!! (the application says that the interconnection agreement IS ATTACHED but it isn’t, just that notice of what the costs will be and that they need to sign GIA).

There was also no disclosure of the need for a Permit from City of Northfield to do the uprate work, though the County permit does require that all permits be obtained before starting construction at the project site.

FYI – Looks like they also got a $2.3 million grant for the solar project via the Rural Energy for America Program:

Leave a Reply