By Bob Mercer
PIERRE -- Two utility companies filed their joint application with South Dakota regulators this week for permission to construct a high-voltage line for electricity transmission through Brown, Day and Grant counties.
Purposes of the proposed line between Ellendale, N.D., and the Big Stone power plant's south substation are improved reliability, added capacity for renewable sources, and reduced burden on existing lines that face over-use as demand for power increases.
The plan calls for construction to start in 2016, with the finished line to be in service in 2016.
A new substation would be built at Ellendale, and the 345-kilovolt transmission line would be approximately 160 to 170 miles in total length, with 150 to 160 miles in South Dakota. It would follow a stair-step route mostly along existing county and township roads.
The total price is estimated at $293 million to $370 million. The South Dakota portion's costs are projected at $250 million to $320 million. Those estimates are based on 2013 dollars.
The project is one of 17 recommended by the regional organization that coordinates electricity transmission in the Midwest. Consumers throughout the Midwest would be assessed the project's costs through their electricity rates.
Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power Company seek to build the Big Stone Ellendale line and substation.
Their plan calls for placing steel single poles set in concrete at distances of 700 to 1,200 feet apart. The poles would be 125 to 150 feet in height and six to 11 feet in diameter.
The companies don't expect to hire any additional permanent or long-term employees but they expect to pay approximately $1.75 million to $2.25 million in property taxes, along with the various taxes normally imposed on construction projects.
MDU and Otter Tail need permission from a variety of federal, state and county governments for the project, including a permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.
The PUC plans to hold two public-input meetings on Oct. 17. The first will be at noon at the Northern State University student center in Aberdeen. The second will be 7 p.m. at the Milbank Community Center.
People, businesses and organizations that wish to have official party status in the PUC's docket on the project have an Oct. 22 deadline to officially apply. The PUC can hold a formal evidentiary hearing later in the process.
The timetable submitted to the PUC by MDU and Otter Tail shows the companies plan for permit approvals to be complete in August 2014.