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Published September 15 2012

Divided PSC OKs CapX 2020 power line route

FARGO – Construction will start early next year on the CapX 2020 power line that utilities say will help to meet growing demand for electricity.

A divided North Dakota Public Service Commission approved the route of the transmission line, which links Fargo-Moorhead with the Twin Cities area.

Commissioner Kevin Cramer, who voted against approval, argued that the location would be detrimental to a few communities south of Fargo, including Oxbow and Hickson.

The line is one of four with the $1.9 billion “CapX2020” project, which is intended to bolster the reliability of the electric transmission network that serves many of Minnesota’s largest cities.

Eleven utilities, including Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power, are involved in the project.

One of the proposed lines runs from western Cass County, which borders Minnesota, to St. Cloud and Monticello. The North Dakota PSC has been deliberating the line’s proposed North Dakota route, which begins northwest of Casselton and goes 33 miles south and east around south Fargo.

The commission voted 2-1 Wednesday to endorse the power line’s North Dakota route. The commission’s chairman, Brian Kalk, and Commissioner Bonny Fetch backed the route.

Kalk said the route balanced the interests of people along its path and had been changed to accommodate a number of concerns, including those of a man who operates two private airstrips on the route.

“No matter where this power line goes, it’s going to be impacting someone,” Kalk said.

Cramer said the route had been moved south at the request of Fargo officials to avoid obstructing the city’s growth pattern. But, “in doing so, we’ve infringed upon other communities that are already established,” such as Oxbow and Hickson in rural Cass County, Cramer said.

“I think we have to give some weight to the established communities as well, and work a little harder to find, perhaps, a route that is less imposing on fewer people,” he said.

The commissioners said route deliberations were influenced by the possible location of a Red River floodwater diversion channel, which is years from being built, if constructed at all.

“There may or may not be a diversion plan, but even if there is, it’s uncertain what that might be, or when it might take place,” Fetch said. “I don’t believe that this commission can hold up making a decision on (the power line route), based on some speculative, uncertain future decision.”

Darrin Lahr, project route lead, said the transmission towers will be designed to withstand periodic flooding without any problem, in the event some are located within an area flooded by a diversion project.

Cramer said North Dakota regulators’ hands were forced to a degree because routes for the Minnesota portion of the power line have already been established, and some Minnesota sections of the line have been finished.

The North Dakota component of the power line is estimated to cost $70 million.

The Fargo segment of the transmission line is scheduled for completion in 2015, when it will go into service.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.