The Minnesota Department of Commerce has given the green light for Xcel Energy to continue the next phase of the Huntley-Wilmarth Transmission Line project to analyze the scope by preparing the environmental impact statement.

The draft statement will be published in December and will include comments from the public that were gathered in June, according to Project Manager Grant Stevenson.

“The State will host additional meetings. In late January they’ll have a meeting focused just on the environmental impact statement, it gives the public an opportunity to tell the State how thorough a job they think they did and if any corrections need to be made. Then in February, there will be a second meeting for public input on both need for the project and any comments people have about the route.”

In the process, officials will study the human and environmental impacts, which include the distance from homes or poles in farm fields.

“After the public hearings, an administrative law judge will issue a recommendation and that we expect to come in May. So ultimately the public utilities commission and our best estimate is probably in the July 2019 timeframe for their decision.”

The route of the project has faced some criticism as the new 345-kilovolt line will span 50-miles to connect the Xcel Energy Wilmarth Substation and the ITC Huntley Substation.

The City of Mankato had requested that one of the proposed routes not be included, which would have taken the line through the Prairie Winds development. That route has since been removed. The City of North Mankato expressed displeasure with one of the routes that would take the line along County Road 41, saying the line would hamper expansion of the North Port Industrial Park and residential development. The route is still included in the route permit application that was submitted in January.

“There are still four routes, the four routes that Xcel Energy provided in our application. Then some 18 to 20 smaller segments that were suggested by the public during the June meeting. All of those are being evaluated by the State with equal weight and discussed in the environmental impact statement.”

The transmission line project has also been the subject of a federal lawsuit. LSP Transmission Holdings attempted to bid on the project, but the project wasn’t eligible for competitive bidding under Minnesota’s right-to-first-refusal law. The U.S. Justice Department said the law is anticompetitive and violates the U.S. Constitution. Xcel Energy, ITC Midwest and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office requested the lawsuit be dismissed.

If approved, construction on the project would start in the summer of 2020, with the plan for the line to be in-service by 2021.