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Residents get up close look at tall project

These H-shaped power poles currently carry a 115-kilovolt power line to the Minnesota Falls substation adjacent to the Xcel Energy plant in Granite Falls.The CapX project proposes replacing them with single, steel poles carrying a 345-kV line. The new poles would range from 130 to 175 feet in height, depending on terrain, and the average span between poles would be 1,000 feet. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS -- A handful of people came out to pore over maps and see how plans to invest $700 million and build a high-voltage line from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton in the southeast corner of the Twin Cities metropolitan area might affect them.

The public hearing on Monday afternoon at Prairie's Edge Casino Resort near Granite Falls was an opportunity for residents living along a separate section of that corridor -- running from Marshall to Granite Falls -- to review a draft of an environmental impact statement on the CapX2020 project.

Currently, H-shaped power poles hold a 115-kilovolt line along the corridor and connect to the Minnesota Valley substation adjacent to the Xcel Energy plant in Granite Falls.

The CapX proposal calls for replacing those poles with single, rust-colored steel poles carrying a 345-kilovolt line. The new poles would be 130 to 175 feet high, or nearly twice the height of the existing poles. The Minnesota Falls substation would be upgraded and a second substation would be built in Hazel Run Township south of Granite Falls.

CapX2020 is described as the largest upgrade to Minnesota's electrical transmission system in 30 years.

Growing demand for power by consumers, and proposals to add 700 megawatts of new wind power to the transmission grid to feed that demand, are among the driving forces for the project, according to Randy Fordice of Great River Energy.

Great River Energy is one of 11 major participants CapX2020.

The preferred choice is to build this new line from Marshall to Granite Falls on the same corridor as the existing 115-kilovolt route. The Public Utilities Commission could decide to use alternative routes, including one that would follow state Highway 23 from Marshall to the Minnesota Valley substation, according to information presented at the hearing.

Gary and Jean Anderson of Hanley Falls are among those who live alongside the existing 115-kilovolt transmission line. While viewing maps with Aaron Mielke of Barr Engineering, the Andersons expressed their concerns about the larger lines.

The opportunity to voice objections and concerns for the record comes Nov. 30, when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will conduct a formal hearing with an administrative law judge at Prairie's Edge, according to Scott Ek, state planning director with the Minnesota Office of Energy Security.

He said the PUC will likely be deciding the route for the Brookings to Hampton section -- and other CapX2020 routes -- in March or April of 2010, after a series of public hearings.

The route is one of four upgraded corridors that comprise the estimated $1.7 billion CapX2020 project, Fordice said.

The Brookings to Hampton corridor is expected to cost $700 million to build. The route could vary from 237 to 262 miles in length, depending on the specific segments that are approved.