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I’ve been finding snippets of the struggle out in SW Minnesota (PUC eDocket 01-1958) in my inbox that is painful to hear about from afar:

Do you know a Dave Callahan from Xcel ? Callahan is supposed to meet with a couple of us on the transmission line, neighbor diggng in heels as are several others, double circut pay is an issue, access is another…. on the easement compensation sheet, there is a 1099 item, the full paymet is listed here & reported to the feds., then further down the 50% reduction language was covered up by a sticker/arrow pointing to “sign below.” Another case of trickery.

It’s the same arrogant utility attitude that they encountered on the Minnesota side of the Arrowhead project, though the Arrowhead landowners inexplicably decided to pursue an ineffective action at the PUC rather than fight their case in court — they never argued their condemnation case, and even the judge was puzzled, so the opinion says.
Condemnation Part I Download file
Condemnation Part II Download file

And the “Buy the Farm” provision of the Power Plant Siting Act, 116C.63, Subd. 4 — when they lowered the threshold for High Voltagea Transmission Line to 100kV and above, the following year they went and raised the “Buy the Farm” threshold to 200kV and above — the majority of those affected by transmission lines now, because they’re building high capacity low-voltage lines, can’t opt out from living under the line.

And the particularly painful part of it is that party line, “It’s transmission for wind.” It’s NOT transmission for wind — here’s my “Transmission for Dummies #2” – scroll down to “It’s NOT for wind!” Here’s the powerflow that proves it, 213MVA out of the 2085 capacity coming down from Buffalo Ridge at the Nobles substation, the ONLY entry point from Buff Ridge on the line: View image

Here’s the story from the STrib:

Power play: Farmers fight Xcel

Southwestern Minnesota farmers challenge Xcel’s use of eminent domain and the compensation for use of their land.

Joy Powell, Star Tribune

The phone call came one morning during spring planting, when a man from a land-acquisition firm told Loren and Ethelyn Cuperus that part of their small farm near Lakefield, Minn., was condemned for construction of a new Xcel Energy power line.

For months, the couple had insisted that Xcel wasn’t offering an adequate payment to use the land — a 150-foot-wide strip through the middle of their farm in Jackson County. Xcel is moving ahead with the easement, the caller said, as part of a $162 million project to build transmission lines for the growing wind-energy industry.

“We’re not against wind energy,” said Loren Cuperus, 69. “We only want to be treated fairly. They want to bulldoze their way through.”

Depending on the site, Xcel has been offering 50 or 85 percent of the value of the land; farmers can continue to grow crops around the lines. But the Cuperuses and other farmers say that 50 percent is not a fair price for use of their land, for crops that will be reduced, and for damage to nutrient-rich brown loam during construction.

It’s a story that spotlights the controversy over eminent domain, with which governments or utilities can buy property from unwilling sellers for an important public use.

Xcel, which has revenue of $10 billion a year, says its project is essential to operate the above-ground transmission line and provide more electricity, primarily from wind. The new lines will more than double transmission capacity from southwestern Minnesota and boost its burgeoning wind industry, said Paul Adelmann, an Xcel spokesman.

In 2003, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Xcel’s highest-voltage power line, which will stretch 94 miles from Brandon, S.D., near Sioux Falls, to Lakefield. It also involves three smaller lines and other improvements to strengthen the entire electricity network, from the blustery Buffalo Ridge area in southwestern Minnesota to the Twin Cities and throughout the region, Adelmann said.

So far, Xcel has reached agreements with owners of 102 of the 395 parcels involved. Another 68 parcels are being negotiated. Owners of 225 parcels have yet to receive offers.

An issue for owners of 80 parcels, including the Cuperuses, is whether they’ll receive less because they already have older power lines that would be replaced or upgraded.

To deal with farmers, Xcel hired an Iowa firm, Graham Land Acquisition Associates. It specializes in helping public works, utilities and economic development projects acquire land through condemnation.

Loren and Ethelyn Cuperus and other farmers say they’ve been “threatened” with condemnation during encounters with the firm’s representatives.

Dave Callahan, who leads the siting and land rights department for Xcel Energy, said he has heard the complaints and is trying to work out solutions.

“When we ask the landowners for specifics, what we find out is that the agent just told them the truth and they didn’t like what they heard,” Callahan said. “This is an essential service project that was approved by the PUC.”

Figuring fair compensation

On a Sunday last January, the Cuperuses, their widowed neighbor, Beverly Voehl, and a farmer who rents land on the 400-acre Cuperus farm met with a Graham representative, Brian Jennings.

The farmers said Jennings told them that if they wrote down what he was saying, he would not tell them any more.

Attempts to reach Jennings for comment this week were rebuffed by a Graham Land Acquisition official, Carroll McCracken. “We are under contract [with Xcel] to not talk with you for this project … so you have to contact Xcel Energy,” McCracken said.

Voehl ended up signing papers for an Xcel easement, although she felt bullied and disrespected, she said. The Cuperuses refused to sign because they would have been paid at a lower rate for some of their land.

That’s because in 1966, Loren’s father received a one-time payment for easements. Interstate Power and Light Co. paid his father $445 for a strip of land 75 feet wide and a half-mile long, Cuperus said. The right-of-way encompassed five “H-frame” poles, for which his father received $65 per pole, plus $120 for a wire overhang.

Now, new single poles are to replace the older double poles on the farm as part of Xcel’s 345-kilovolt line from South Dakota to a Lakefield substation in Jackson County.

Where no power poles exist, Xcel has paid farmers $3,060 per acre, which represents 85 percent of the current value of the land. The farmers still can farm on it.

Where poles already exist and will be replaced or updated, farmers have been offered 50 percent of the value, or $1,530 an acre, for the perpetual easement. Farmers still are negotiating with Xcel on that amount.

Cuperus and other farmers also say they should be receiving more for crop damage and dirt compaction and be assured timely repair of drainage tile that gets broken during construction.

“I probably have never negotiated with a landowner who didn’t think they should get more,” Callahan said. “That’s why we rely on established appraisal practices.”

Callahan said Xcel added a “signing bonus” of $1,000 for those who agreed to an easement.

‘Green’ energy is in demand

This spring, Xcel became the nation’s biggest buyer of wind energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Utilities in the region expect to need 6,000 megawatts of new electricity generation to meet needs in the next 15 years, with the Twin Cities the biggest draw on that power, according to the state Commerce Department.

The department is calling on Xcel Energy to boost investments in wind energy and use less natural gas. Xcel faces a tight construction schedule as it replaces old H-style powerlines with single poles for the higher-voltage lines, Callahan said.

The utility is launching “quick-take” processes to acquire land through condemnation, according to documents sent to Loren and Ethelyn Cuperus. A court date is set for May 31, but negotiations continue.

The couple’s friend, Dave Ackermann of Lakefield, is another farmland owner fighting for higher compensation for the Xcel easements. Down the road, he said, it’s not just rural people who could be affected.

“How would people in the city like to have a 345-kilovolt line going their yard,” Ackermann asked, “and their kids playing under it?”

Joy Powell â?¢ 612-673-7750

Did you catch this LIE:

Xcel, which has revenue of $10 billion a year, says its project is essential to operate the above-ground transmission line and provide more electricity, primarily from wind. The new lines will more than double transmission capacity from southwestern Minnesota and boost its burgeoning wind industry, said Paul Adelmann, an Xcel spokesman.

Ya know, I’m a math idiot, but I know that 213 out of 2085 is NOT “PRIMARILY!”

And did you catch this half truth:

The new lines will more than double transmission capacity from southwestern Minnesota..


Change the “from” to “through” and you’ve got it — a line running from Sioux Falls (Split Rock sub) to Lakefield Junction isn’t going “from” SW MN, it’s going THROUGH it.

The farmers out there know who pays and who benefits, and it’s too bad that deals were made that allow Xcel to say “it’s for wind” when it’s not, when only 213MVA of the 2085MVA capacity is coming off of Buffalo Ridge. Xcel’s engineer, Rick Gonzalez, went over the powerflows in testimony in the SW MN case, it’s there in the record for anyone who cares to look…

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