Today was the hearing on Xcel Energy’s Minot Load Serving Transmission Project, or McHenry-Magic City 230 kV Transmission Line Project.

PSC hears NSP’s plan to upgrade transmission line to Minot

I got a Google Alert on this project, and it’s just a short jaunt from the Ft. Stevenson State Park (no relation to Xcel’s Grant Stevenson, I believe), so it seemed a lot more exciting than a tour of the Garrison Dam (I mean, yawn, we toured the Ft. Peck Dam last year and a dam’s a dam!). Last night was a rough night in the ol’ campground, highest winds I’ve ever experienced, and I thought the roof might collapse.  Not a drop of rain, but the wind was so high, and lightning and thunder just a bit to the north.  Everything blew around and I had to get up and get out and get everything in. Whew, it’s tired out…

Here’s the project:

The Route Application, at issue in this hearing:

Consolidated Application for Certificate of Corridor Compatibility, Route Permit, Waiver

And the CPCN Application, which has been issued:

Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity

This hearing yesterday was about  not just Xcel’s application, but also its request for a waiver, wanting to rush it through.  That was the major point that made no sense.  This project was the result of a study that is Appendix A in the above Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, and a Supplement that is Appendix B.  It was dated 3/27, 2015, which is 2.5 years ago!  Why the hurry?  It’s also in MISO’s MTEP 15.  The CPCN application wasn’t filed until September, 2016, by Pam Rasmussen.  Again, what’s the hurry?  That wasn’t answered. Xcel’s Tom Hilstrom said that he was responsible for the application, and that there were things that changed, but ???  Granted, “Hilly” probably wasn’t at Xcel for some of the time in question, Pam Rasmussen could have filed it, anyone could have, but it wasn’t. So it’s not really so urgent, eh?

The “need” for this project, and this project alone, wasn’t established.  Commissioner Fedorchak had a number of questions about need, acknowledging that the CPCN proceeding came before, was already decided, but she wanted more info on need.  However, when I raised issues about “what’s the hurry” and “need” and urged them to consider generation in Minot, such as natural gas generation, solar installed on the excess 40 acres of substation land purchased that isn’t necessary for the substation, and that all the recommendations of the study should be addressed, not just this one.  I also asked that they take into consideration the unspecified GRE project connected (after all, this is transmission, it’s all connected, and another Commissioner had questions about Xcel’s agreements with the other transmission owners, particularly GRE, owner of the McHenry substation).  Fedorchak apparently wasn’t too happy and wanted to make sure I knew need had already been decided.  Ummmmm, raising issues similar to the ones she raised… hmmmmm.  And she very pointed asked, “And what’s YOUR interest in this project?”  I’d disclosed that at the beginning, no dog in the fight, camping nearby, got notice, and so looked into it.  That’s called public participation.

What’s more odd is that there were only two of us who commented on the project.  The other speaker was from the North Prairie Town Board, which had worked out an agreement with Xcel to follow quarter section lines rather than cut cross country diagonally, as the existing line does.  Kudos to the town board!!!

The study has a number of changes recommended, and the transformer at McHenry substation is the limiting factor.  Also, given that this is two lines on one structure, that’s regarded by NERC as one element, not two, and therefore not technically a reliability boost!

And about that McHenry transformer… where’s that? And it seems that the “rebuild both Ward County-Souris 115kV lines should be a top priority.

The good news?  North Dakota has some interesting notions, like that those testifying should be reminded of “perjury” and that they swear or affirm that their testimony is true, both utility witnesses and the public (there was no staff testimony).  Second is that the Commissioners go to the hearings!  What a concept!  Commissioner Christmann, responding to my testimony, wanted me to note how exceptional it is that the Commissioners were there, but it’s not ONLY North Dakota.  That’s how it works in Wisconsin too, except in WI, it’s only the public hearings, and not the evidentiary hearings, although there is usually one commissioner present, and/or commissioners’ staff, to monitor. I had a short chat with Commissioner Kroshus, who came up and introduced himself, in a break, prior to my testimony,and I was clear, FULL DISCLOSURE, no dog in the fight, not representing anyone in this, and we talked some about differences in procedure, the ups and downs of our respective states.

Meanwhile… the office today, a perfect day in the shade at the Marina!