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PUC approves wind project

Wind turbine, Dodge County Wind, NextEra
By
Karen M. Jorgensen, Contributing Writer

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission gave its approval to the Dodge County Wind Project May 2. The Commission granted the request for a Certificate of Need, Site Permit and Route Permit.

Dodge County Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, plans to construct a 252-megawatt wind farm with the electricity generated sold to Great River Energy which supplies power to the 27 member-owned cooperatives.

The project includes 72 turbines, most of them located in western Dodge County, with some in Steele County. The electricity will be transported to Great River’s Pleasant Valley substation in Mower County via a 27 mile 161-kilovolt transmission line. Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric is one of the cooperatives that is a part of Great River Energy.

At last week’s meeting the commission gave its approval to the hybrid route alternative that had been recommended in the document submitted by an administrative law judge. During public hearings and written comments made to the PUC during the review process, the most contentious area was the route of the transmission line.

Three routes were suggested originally with all of them traveling from western Dodge County to Highway 56. The routes diverged at that point with the Highway 56 route continuing down the highway to south of Waltham where it turns east to the substation. The county road route crossed over Highway 56 following county roads to County Road 9 where it went south to Sargeant and then east to the substation. The hybrid route follows Highway 56 south for a short distance before going east to connect with County Road 9.

While the Environmental Impact Study prepared by the PUC staff recommended the hybrid route, numerous residents favored the route down Highway 56. Dodge County Commissioners also favored the Highway 56 route. Dodge County Wind and Mower County officials both supported the hybrid route going down County Road 9.

In her written report to the PUC, Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Middendorf said that the Hybrid Route Alternative is the most suitable route, adding that the Commission had the authority under Minnesota Statutes to place conditions in an HVTL route permit.

Numerous farmers living along the hybrid route had told commissioners they had concerns about how the voltage and stray voltage of the line would affect their dairy cows and hogs.

In 2023, a stakeholder group made up of representatives from Ashland, Hayfield, Ripley, and Sargeant townships, and Dodge and Mower counties, helped guide discussions on some of the challenges facing the project, including transmission line route options.                                                                                                                                                                            

During last week’s meeting, PUC Commissioner John Tuma offered an amendment to the approval adding a special condition that Dodge County Wind “attempt in good faith to meet with the owners of dairy and hog farms adjacent to the route for the purpose of explaining the energy and electrical standard effects addressed and demonstrate compliance with the consultation obligation in its pre-construction filing.”

“The Dodge County Wind Project is a prime example of how public input is vital to the Commission,” Tuma said. “The recommendations from the stakeholder group, along with hundreds of public comments really changed the trajectory of the project and honestly, is one of the main reasons we were able to approve it.”

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