Sioux Falls Argus Leader
A $730 million power line from Brookings County to the Twin Cities area crossed a final hurdle Thursday when the regional grid manager approved a formula to pay for it.
The board of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator voted unanimously to designate 16 proposed transmission lines as Multi-Value Project, including the 250-mile Brookings line of the CapX2020 project, which would move South Dakota wind power to Hampton, Minn., just south of St. Paul.
“That is definitely good news,” said Ron Rebenitsch, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association.
The Multi-Value Projects tariff structure spreads the cost of building the transmission among all utilities that transmit power on the Midwest ISO grid. Officials at CapX2020 — a consortium of 11 utilities — have said the Brookings line probably would not have been built without this designation. It’s one of four major transmission projects the group has proposed at a total cost of $1.7 billion.
Wind energy developers and clean energy advocates say grid congestion has stymied expansion of the wind industry. New transmission improves the reliability of the grid for all users and provides an outlet for wind generation, Rebenitsch said.
“This will help those projects that are ready to go and can be constructed within the next year,” when a federal tax credit for wind generation expires, he said. “Now there’s going to be a move to get those projects built that can get built, since they have the surety that the transmission will be there.”
Proposed transmission lines from Ellendale, N.D., to the Big Stone South substation and from Big Stone to the Brookings substation also were granted Multi-Value Projects status. Fergus Falls, Minn.-based Otter Tail Power Co. has a 50 percent stake in both projects.
Company spokeswoman Cris Kling said these projects are still in the planning stages, but the board’s decision paves the way for permitting to begin next year.
“These projects haven’t really begun, so there’s no route identified,” she said. Otter Tail also is a CapX2020 member.
Randy Fordice, a spokesman for Maple Grove, Minn.-based Great River Energy, one of the utilities involved, said construction on the Brookings line will begin in Minnesota in April. The utilities already have negotiated easements for the 345-kilovolt line with the 14 landowners in South Dakota, he said, and they’re working on securing easements from the 1,200 or so affected landowners in Minnesota.
The 16 Multi-Value Projects that the grid management board approved were part of a broader expansion of the region’s grid: the board also approved 199 other transmission projects worth $6.5 billion that will bring online 2,700 megawatts of queued generation.
Transmission projects not only will provide much-needed upgrades to the regional grid, they’ll also help Minnesota utilities meet the state’s renewable energy standard that requires utilities to deliver 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. (For Xcel Energy, the requirement is 30 percent by 2020, part of an agreement that allows the company to store more nuclear waste at its Prairie Island nuclear plant.)
Midwest ISO estimates the benefit to ratepayers in improved efficiency and reliability at 1.8 to 3 times the cost of the projects, netting the average residential customer $23 for every $11 invested.
Not everyone is happy with the news. Carol Overland, a lawyer in Red Wing, Minn., has campaigned against an expansion of the grid she sees as unnecessary.
With demand for electricity flat — Great River Energy recently idled a brand-new coal plant in North Dakota, citing a lack of demand for the output, among other reasons — Overland argues that meeting Minnesota’s renewable energy standard could be achieved by shutting down existing coal plants rather than adding new generation.