Landowners can now see detailed maps of BSSA routes

Landowners in Swift, Stevens, Pope, Otter Tail, Douglas and Big Stone counties now have a detailed map of two potential routes for the Big Stone South to Alexandria 345Kv transmission line. 

An interactive online map allows property owners to zoom into the area within the proposed corridor with enough detail to see the buildings on their farm site in relation to the transmission line’s path.

While the corridor routes started out very wide, they have now been narrowed to 1,000 feet.

Last week, Missouri River Energy Services and Otter Tail Power Company conducted a series of open houses to meet with landowners whose property could be within the transmission line’s final corridor through western Minnesota. 

It was also an opportunity for citizens with an interest in or concerns about the powerline to ask questions of the Missouri River and Otter Tail staff.

The meetings were conducted in Benson, Glenwood, Alexandria and Ortonville. Large maps of property parcels and potential powerline route were available with staff ready to explain the details. Computer presentations were also available with staff showing how residents could access the maps and find their parcels on it in relation to the proposed routes.

There are currently two routes from Big Stone City, S.D., to Alexandria under study by Missouri River and Otter Tail. There are a few segments along the route where there is a single path proposed. In these very short stretches, the options were logistically limited for routing the powerline.

Two routes are required by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which will give final approval for the path of the transmission line. Now that the public meeting phase of the project has been completed, the companies will be finalizing their proposal for PUC review.

Otter Tail and Missouri River are expecting to hear from the PUC in 2026 on the routing permits with construction starting in 2027-2028. The power could be energized by 2030.

The Big Stone South to Alexandria line will be 95 to 105 miles long with 4 to 5 miles in South Dakota and between 90 and 100 in Minnesota.

From Big Stone City, the proposed route follows closely along U.S. Highway 12 as it passes just south of Ortonville and continues east. It will turn north on the west side of Correll with one potential route turning east again south of Artichoke Lake before turning north from the U.S. 12 corridor just east of U.S. Highway 59

The other option is for the powerline to continue north before heading east on the north side of Artichoke Lake.

The two routes intersect west of Clontarf and then head north with one going on the west side of Hancock and the other north on the east side of Hancock.

They intersect northeast of Hancock again and then the two follow a fairly similar route northeast passing by Starbuck to the west before making their way to Alexandria.

The poles will be able to hold two lines, but the current project only involves one.

Otter Tail says the new power line will allow more low-cost renewable energy to flow from the generation resources to customers and reduce congestion on the existing transmission system created by an increasing amount of renewable energy trying to access the power grid.

Evidence of the construction of the 345kV power line spurring interesting renewable energy projects has already proven true.

Unofficially at the Benson meeting last Thursday were representatives of Apex Clean Energy, the company proposing to construct an estimated 40 5 megawatt to 6-megawatt wind turbines, producing 200 megawatts of power, in western Swift County.

Landowners have been meeting with Apex representatives as the company looks to sign leases for the sites where their windmills will be constructed.

Solar energy companies are also looking at western Swift County.

There were a wide variety of factors taken into consideration for placement of the routes, Joshua Humberg, who will be the project manager for the power line construction, told the Swift County Board of Commissioners in late May. Many of those factors involved agriculture. 

“We are trying to avoid areas with a large number of center pivot irrigators. Where we do interact with land involving irrigators, we are working with the landowners to make sure we are outside the radiuses of them, so we don’t interfere with their field irrigation,” he said.

An Environmental Assessment Public Hearing hosted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) took place in Benson June 13 as it gathers public testimony on the proposed routes.

Otter Tail and Missouri River will be signing leases with landowners on whose property the power poles will be placed and the along with the powerlines will be strung.

 “What we plan on doing is going out and engaging landowners, more than likely, on both of these routes just to make sure we are hearing their interests and desires before we have the route permits,” Humberg explained to commissioners in May.

“What we typically do with easements is give a one-time payment for the full value of the land underneath the 150-foot-wide swath for the entire route of the transmission line,” he said. 

Crop damage payments are also part of the payment package. 

“The landowner retains the land, so it is almost like us buying it and giving it back at appraised value,” Humberg said.

If the powerline follows a highway right of way, Otter Tail has to make sure that it sits back away from any future construction projects, Humberg said.

In the easement area, which will be 150-feet wide, there is an area 75 feet on either side of the centerline of the pole structure and the powerline, Jason Weiers, manager of transmission project development at Otter Tail Power Company told commissioners in March. 

“That 150-foot easement is intended to provide that safety buffer. When you look at the impacts of the magnetic fields, the electric fields, coming off a transmission line, by the time you get out to that 75-foot distance to the edge of the right of way, that strength has dissipated to the point where it is no longer a problem,” he explained.

There is a minimum clearance requirement for safety of 30 feet between the lowest part of a wire and the ground, he said.

“Do you have to adjust the route any worry about stray voltage for livestock,” Commissioner Larry Mahoney, District 4-Fairfield Township, asked Weiers at a March meeting.

“We get that question quite a bit from landowners,” Weiers said. “That is something we are mindful of. We do see the potential for inducing voltage on fence lines, waterers, especially when we see the powerline paralleling fences. It is not such a big deal if we cross (one) at a 90-degree angle.

“Those are things we would certainly be willing to do testing on with local landowners to make sure that we don’t have any potential issues with livestock,” he said.

What kind of voltage can occur off of a fence under a power line like that? Mahoney asked.

“Generally, we shouldn’t have any safety concerns,” Weiers told him. “This is going to come down the landowner’s judgement on it. If the cattle are acting a little weird, give us a call and we will come out and do some testing. If the levels are above acceptable limits, then we definitely want to do some mitigation, which will involve some grounding to dissipate that stray voltage to the ground without harming the animals.”

U.S. Highway 12 is one of the linear features that offers a path that could minimize landowner impacts. Part of the corridor could also follow U.S. Highway 59.  At the same time, he added, these major highways can have a lot of houses built along them. “We want to be mindful of staying away from houses,” he said.