Appeals court to hear from citizens' group opposed to CapX2020 transmission lines

The Minnesota Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Wednesday over a transmission project that three citizens' groups are trying to block.

The Citizens Energy Task Force, No CapX2020 and the United Citizens Action Network are appealing the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's decision last year to grant certificates of need for the three transmission lines that are part of the CapX2020 project.

The CapX2020 project would build three 345-kV transmission lines across Minnesota that would connect to the Dakotas and Wisconsin. The 11 utilities involved in the project say the lines would expand the electric transmission grid and are needed to meet growing energy demands.

The groups argue that the 600 miles of transmission lines that would touch four states aren't needed and that building them will cause environmental damage.

Paula Maccabee, an attorney for the Citizens Energy Task Force, said the group is especially concerned about the proposed line that will cross the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota and connect to Alma, Wis. The line could disrupt migratory birds, she said.

"The La Crosse project in particular crosses in the middle of a national wildlife refuge in the Mississippi River flyway," she said. "There are local and lower voltage transmission alternatives that would have provided the needed electric reliability without this degree of environmental harm."

Eleven utilities, including Xcel Energy and Great River Energy, want to build the lines to upgrade and expand the electric transmission grid. Besides the La Crosse line, the PUC has approved a line to run from Brookings, S.D., across southern Minnesota and another from Fargo, N.D., to near St. Cloud.

Last April, the PUC sided with the utilities in deciding the transmission lines were needed. However, commissioners required the Brookings line to mostly carry wind power.

But Maccabee said she'll argue the PUC didn't scrutinize the project enough and overestimated future electricity demand.

"We're hoping that the Court of Appeals will tell them that it is required by law that the commission provide a check and balance on the desires of the utilities to expand infrastructure," she said.

In a response brief filed by Assistant Attorney General Alison Archer, the state argues that the PUC acted appropriately in approving the transmission lines. Archer argues the PUC found no viable alternatives and accurately concluded that the benefits to society outweigh any negative impacts to the environment.

The appeals court will hear oral arguments Wednesday morning and rule at a later date.

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