Hennepin County Attorney's victory saves local citizens money

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office won again in the case involving Xcel Energy’s proposed transmission lines near the Midtown Greenway, this time saving Xcel ratepayers in Minneapolis money on their electric bill.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-1 on June 28 to spread the cost of burying the transmission lines throughout all of Xcel’s five-state rate base, rather than charging that $17 million cost only to Minneapolis electricity customers, or maybe Hennepin County customers.

Chuck Salter, of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s Civil Division, represented the county and argued successfully, along with others, that the burden of paying the extra cost of burying the transmission lines, rather than stringing them on poles along the popular bikeway, should not fall on just the Minneapolis customers.

Minneapolis customers would have seen a noticeable increase in their monthly electricity bills if the $17 million cost had been limited to just them. With this ruling, the increase will be pennies a month.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office won the first time when the Public Utilities Commission ruled Jan.12 that the transmission line should run underground along 28th Street rather than overhead along the Midtown Greenway or other alternative routes in densely populated South Minneapolis.

The ruling brought to a conclusion a three-year case that started with a March 2009 Hennepin County Board resolution requesting Xcel to run the transmission line underground and to disburse costs throughout Xcel’s entire rate base.

The project is unique due to its setting in an extremely densely populated urban environment that already accommodated multiple uses (residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and recreation) with many significant historical bridges, buildings and other structures. Xcel acknowledged that it had never built an overhead line in such a densely populated area.

The commission focused on both the unique setting which made an overhead line largely impossible and the fact that by the time of the hearing, only the Minnesota Department of Commerce adamantly objected to the disbursement of costs throughout Xcel’s rate base. All four commissioners commented on the unique facts but acknowledged that the ruling might open the door for future cases in the metro area involving underground transmission lines and cost allocation.

The litigation involved a one-month trial before then Administrative Law Judge Beverly Heydinger in April, 2010. Although Governor Dayton recently appointed Ms. Heydinger to serve as the Public Utilities Commission chair, she did not participate in the commission’s deliberations.