Permitting conducted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (Commission) for new energy facilities depends on public participation. Though permitting processes vary depending on the type and size of energy facility being proposed, there are public participation opportunities that are common to all processes. People who use these opportunities can make a difference in whether a facility is built, where it's built, and how it's built.
The State of Minnesota has established a policy of locating energy facilities in an orderly manner compatible with environmental preservation, sustainable development, and efficient use of resources. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is responsible for locating and permitting energy facilities in Minnesota. When a utility or other energy developer wants to build a transmission line, power plant, wind farm or pipeline, they apply to the Commission for a permit.
The Commission has a challenging job — it must determine whether a proposed energy facility should be built, the most appropriate location for the energy facility, and appropriate conditions on its construction and operation. To help them make the best decisions, the Commission offers several opportunities for people and agencies to provide input and feedback during the permitting process.
The Commission relies primarily on two state agencies
to gather and analyze public input — the Department of Commerce
(Department) and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
These agencies gather public input and develop a record of this input
which is then submitted to the Commission.
The Commission uses this record to make a final permitting decision.
Department of Commerce — What Are the Facts? The Department is responsible for conducting environmental review of proposed energy facilities. Department staff begins the environmental review process by soliciting public input on possible alternative locations for the project and potential impacts of the project. After soliciting this input, Department staff develops and issues an environmental review document, for example, an environmental impact statement. The environmental review describes the project, analyzes the potential human and environmental impacts of the project and alternatives, and where potential impacts are noted, suggests measures to avoid and mitigate these impacts. The environmental review offers an objective, comparative analysis of the potential impacts of the project and alternatives.
Office of Administrative Hearings — What Do the Facts Mean? The OAH conducts a public hearing on the proposed project and possible alternatives. The public hearing is conducted by an administrative law judge (ALJ). It is the opportunity for people and agencies to tell the ALJ what they believe is the best location for the proposed project, how it should be constructed and operated, and why. They can use the facts in the environmental review document and any other facts or policies that they think are relevant to help make their case.
After the public hearing, the ALJ will write a report for the Commission. The report generally includes findings, conclusions, and recommendations regarding the proposed project.
The ALJ's report, along with the environmental review document created by the Department, is submitted to the Commission for its consideration. The Commission reviews this record and decides whether to issue a permit and, if so, the appropriate permit conditions.
A schematic of the permitting process for energy facilities can be found here: Schematic of Permitting Process. Permitting processes vary with project type and size. Processes for specific project types are discussed on the respective energy facility tabs on this website, including flowcharts and applicable statutes and rules.
A number of tools are available to help people contribute to the Commission's permitting decisions. These tools are designed to (1) provide information to the public so they are aware and knowledgeable concerning the permitting of a proposed project, and (2) provide opportunities and assistance for people to comment on a project.
Where Can I Get Information About a Project in My Community?
All permitting processes start when an applicant applies to the Commission for a site or route permit. The application is assigned a docket number and a project docket is opened. The docket is identifed by the docket number, which is a year and four digit ID number, for example, 09-1234 (for the year "2009" and the project number "1234"). This docket is a place to organize and view all of the documents in the permitting process — in essence, a big electronic folder. You can download and read documents in the docket and follow the permitting process as it unfolds.
You can access and read documents in a docket through the State of Minnesota's electronic docketing system (eDockets, https://www.edockets.state.mn.us/EFiling/edockets/searchDocuments.do?method=showeDocketsSearch&searchType=new). The eDockets system is searchable by docket number, project type, and keyword(s).
You can also access and read documents about a specific project through the Department's energy facilities website (this website, http://www.mn.gov/commerce/energyfacilities). The website is searchable by project type, name, docket number, and location. In addition, the website includes information on the permitting process, project status indicators, and contact information for the project's environmental review manager and public advisor. It also offers the ability to comment electronically on projects when there are open comment periods (see "How Can I Be Heard?" below).
There are several ways for people who do not have internet access to learn more about a project:
Libraries. Important documents in a permitting process are often available for review at local public libraries. These libraries are listed in the public notices for each project. Typically, libraries will have a copy of (1) the permit application, (2) the environmental review document, and (3) the transcript from the public hearing.
Mailed Notices. You can elect to receive print copies of notices of public meetings, public hearings, and other permitting events by mail (see "How Can I Stay Informed?" below).
Requests. Most project documents can be printed and mailed to people upon request. Direct your request to the Department's environmental review manager for the project or the Commission's public advisor (see "How Can I Get Help?" below). Printing and mailing large documents or large numbers of documents is expensive and not environmentally friendly. Large documents are made available at public libraries.
How Can I Stay Informed?
The Commission's permitting processes can take 9 to 18 months to complete, so it's important to have a way to stay informed about a project. There are several good ways to do this:
Project Mailing List. All energy facility projects have a project mailing list that is used to send notice of project milestones and comment opportunities. Notices are sent by email or U.S. mail — whatever works best for you. When you sign up for the mailing list, indicate your preference for receiving notices. To sign up for a mailing list, contact the Consumer Affairs Office at the Commission: firstname.lastname@example.org, 651-296-0406 or 1-800-657-3782.
eDockets Subscription. You can subscribe to a project docket in eDockets so you receive an email every time a document is filed in that docket. You may get a lot of email if you subscribe to a project docket (you'll get an email for every document), but it assures you will get notice of all public comment opportunities.
RSS Feeds. You can sign up for Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds from the Department's energy facilities website. Feeds are available by project and by county. Feeds provide notice and links to every document posted on the Department energy facilities website for a specific project or for projects in a specific county.
Newspapers. Finally, you can keep abreast of public meetings and public hearings through local newspapers. Notices of meetings and hearing are published in local newspapers several weeks before they occur.
Public notices for a project include the "who, what, when, where, and how" for the event and related comment opportunities. Notices also include directions for how to get help. If you have a question about a project, a notice, an upcoming comment period, or any other matters related to a project, follow the directions in that notice to get help (also see "How Can I Get Help?" below).
How Can I Be Heard — and Make a Difference?
The key to being heard and making a difference is showing up. This doesn't mean you have to attend every public meeting and public hearing, but it does mean that you have to participate by submitting comments. If you don't submit comments — either orally at public meetings and hearings, or in writing — the Commission will never know what you think about a project.
Importantly, early public meetings provide an opportunity to shape the environmental review for the project. This is your chance to propose alternative routes and sites that should be studied in the environmental review. If you think there's a better route for a transmission line or a better location for a power plant, then propose your alternative. If you don't propose your alternative for the Commission to consider, it most likely won't be considered.
There is always a comment period after a meeting, typically 10 days or more. So, if you think of a comment or an alternative after the meeting, you can still get it in. Make sure you get your comments in by the comment period deadline. All meeting notices include how to comment, where to comment, and the comment period deadline. For comment periods where comments are directed to Department staff, you can comment directly on the Department's energy facilities website.
For public meetings, a record of public comments is created by a court reporter. These comments, plus all written comments received are part of the record and are put in eDockets. People can then see all of the comments received for a specific project, including their own.
Once you know of a public hearing that you're interested in ... attend and participate! Make a comment! Hearings are an opportunity for citizens to advocate — to make thei$ case for what they believe is the most appropriate location for the proposed project, how it should be constructed and operated, and why. There is a comment period after the public hearing; the notice will describe how to send comments to the judge. Printed copies of hearing transcripts are made available at public libraries for citizens to review.
Some permitting processes include a special type of public hearing, a contested case hearing. These hearings provide another possible way to participate in the permitting process. Persons, organizations, and other entities that feel they have a unique stake in the permitting of a proposed project can intervene and become a party to the hearing. Requests to intervene and become a party must be directed to the ALJ for the hearing. You can find out who the ALJ is and how to intervene by reading the judge's pre-hearing order. You can find the pre-hearing order in the project docket in eDockets.
Intervening requires a higher level of participation in the public hearing process. It requires you to be more involved in the hearing and to interact with the ALJ and parties to the hearing. It takes more time and energy. Some people find it helpful to hire a lawyer to assist them in intervening and participating as a party, but it is not required.
Public Utilities Commission Meetings. After all the public meetings, environmental review, and public hearings, there is a substantial record on which the Commission can make a permit decision about a project. Anyone can attend Commission meetings. The Commission, at its discretion, may or may not take public comment at the Commission meetings. You can find out how the Commission will handle meeting logistics by contacting Commission staff. Notice of the Commission meeting at which permit issuance will be considered is sent to those persons on the project mailing list and placed in eDockets.
How Can I Get Help?
If you have questions about a project or the permtting process in general, you can contact Department and Commission staff directly. Project webpages on this website provide contact information for the Department's environmental review manager and the Commission's public advisor. A list of Department staff is available here. A list of Commission energy facility permitting staff is available here.
Note: This section under development... more soon.
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