North Dakota utility fined $40K for unpermitted routing of transmission line

An investigation by Public Service Commission staff found that a portion of the 1.5 mile line was rerouted without a permit and partly within the legally-required 500 foot buffer of rural residences. Landowners have complained that the line interrupts the view from their homes.

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BISMARCK — North Dakota regulators have penalized one of the state's major electricity providers for rerouting a transmission line without a permit and building too close to the homes of landowners in Morton County.

The three-member Public Service Commission voted unanimously at a meeting Wednesday, March 30, to penalize Montana Dakota Utilities $40,000 for infractions related to rerouting portions of a 1.5 mile transmission line to deliver natural gas-generated electricity from the company's Heskett Station power plant in Mandan. An investigation by regulatory staff found that the line was rerouted without a permit and a portion was built within the legally-required 500 foot buffer of rural homes.

MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said landowners in the area are already dealing with other transmission lines, not all of them his company's, and they were particularly frustrated by the interruptions the line created for their view.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak called the decision to build without a permit "a serious miscalculation" and said she hopes there are several “lessons learned” from the incident. MDU had ample opportunity to clear up confusion with state regulators, she said.

“The disappointing thing for me is that MDU has been in our state for a very, very, very long time and has been involved in the passage of the siting law from the very beginning,” she said. “They of all the companies should have a very good understanding of what is and isn’t required by the siting law."


Hanson said the mistakes were the result of MDU’s assumption that the regulatory requirements didn't apply, since they considered the development to be two distinct, shorter transmission projects. The Public Service Commission determined that the rerouted stretch constitutes a single line, meaning it has to meet the state’s siting standards.

Aside from the $40,000 fine, which was assessed for rerouting the transmission line without a permit, the commission approved the dismissal of what would have been an additional $60,000 penalty for building too close to four homes. Commissioners said MDU worked hard to reach a deal with landowners, and Fedorchak said the fact that they are having to relocate a portion of the line amounts to "a penalty in itself.”

MDU could be fined an additional $10,000 if they commit any permitting violations within the next seven years.

The incident has underscored the importance to MDU of having conversations with regulatory staff to make sure they are in compliance with state law, rather than simply making assumptions, Hanson said. He said he did not have an estimate for the costs of relocating part of the transmission line.

The rerouted transmission line is part of MDU's ongoing work to retire two coal-fired units at Heskett Station and ramp up electric generation from natural gas.

Fedorchak noted that pushing back part of the transmission line likely will not satisfy the complaints of six residences in immediate view of the line, since it only needs to be moved back several dozen feet to meet legal requirements.

At a public hearing in Mandan last fall, the two sides weren't able to reach an agreement beyond the relocation of a portion of the line. For most of the landowners involved there was "a resignation that the line's gonna be there," Hanson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at .

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