A group of regional utilities in the Midwest last month filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approval of three major 345 kV transmission lines -- including one 322 km line that would unlock upwards of 800 MW of new wind power on the windy Buffalo Ridge area between Minnesota and South Dakota. The three-line application is called CapX2020, short for capacity needed by 2020. It is not common for approval to be sought for three major transmission lines all at once but the need for new wires -- particularly to access new wind resources -- is at an all time high, says Randy Fordice with Great River Energy, among an alliance of 11 electric co-operatives, municipal power entities and investor-owned utilities seeking the upgrade. "Some of the best resources for wind in the country are located in southern and south-west Minnesota," says Fordice. "The biggest driver behind the Brookings, South Dakota, to Twin Cities line is to tap those resources." The other lines are between Fargo, North Dakota and St Cloud, Minnesota, and between the Twin Cities and La Crosse, Wisconsin. The lines will serve crucial reliability needs, says Fordice, who says the last time there was a major transmission upgrade in Minnesota was 20 years ago. Since then, electricity demand has doubled. Demand for wind is also at an all time high: the state is calling for utilities to meet 25% of their energy production from renewable energy by 2025 (30% for Xcel Energy). This amounts to between 4000-5000 MW of new renewables generation (Windpower Monthly, March 2007). The PUC is expected to study the wires proposal during an 18 month period. If all three lines are built, the total cost to be rolled over to all ratepayers will be between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion. Construction would fall between 2010 and 2013.
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