Regulator rejects complaints against power lines for Midwestern wind

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 8, 2013

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week threw out complaints against one of the nation’s largest electric transmission projects in the Midwest aimed at tapping into Minnesota’s wind belt.

FERC said objections that landowners and clean energy groups in Minnesota and Wisconsin raised in opposition to a 345-kilovolt transmission line that Xcel Energy Inc. is proposing as part of its CapX 2020 project were not fully supported and came in late.

Citizens Energy, a nonprofit group including landowners in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Save Our Unique Lands, or SOUL, a nonprofit group in Wisconsin, are opposed to the construction of Xcel’s proposed power line, which would stretch from a substation in Hampton, Minn., to a substation near La Crosse, Wis.

The proposed line is one of five projects Xcel and 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota are constructing as part of the CapX2020 initiative, which will add more than 700 miles of new transmission along a corridor linking wind farms in North Dakota and South Dakota to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as to communities in southern Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin (Greenwire, Dec. 1, 2008).

Xcel and the utilities have said the new power lines are critical because the grid in the Upper Midwest hasn’t had a major upgrade in nearly three decades even as demand has grown. The utilities have also said the lines, which will ship considerable amounts of wind power into the Midwest, will help the region comply with renewable energy mandates in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

But Citizens Energy and SOUL complained that the proposed line would trigger reliability problems and that the consortium of utilities constructing the line advanced the project on economic considerations, not actual need for new transmission.

Xcel and a consortium of utilities and cooperatives based the need for the new power line on 2004 projections for growth in electricity demand that have failed to materialize in the wake of an economic recession, the groups argued. The only economic benefit the region will see after the line is constructed will come from a presumed shift from gas-fired generation to cheaper coal-fired power, they added.

But FERC agreed with the utilities and the operator of the Midwestern grid that the groups had failed to provide sufficient engineering data to prove that the power line would violate federal reliability standards, some of which have not yet been approved.

FERC also agreed with the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. and said the groups should have raised their concerns years ago when the project was vetted through a regional process.