Our appetite for energy is growing fast, but the supply isn’t keeping up. Now a group of power companies that serve two million Minnesota customers wants to upgrade or build new transmission lines across the state.
The proposed routes are from Ortonville, Minn. north to Morris, Minn., from Ortonville east to Willmar, Minn. and from Ortonville south to Granite Falls, Minn. Now, a battle is brewing over the power line plans.
South Dakota has already approved a new coal-burning power plant. Seven regional power companies say they’re prepared to bring in thousands of megawatts of energy by upgrading or building new two Minnesota power lines.
“That’s a function of loads having grown for the last 20 years without any significant new resources being added,” said Ward Uggurud of Otter Tail Power.
The transmission lines would include some renewable energy produced by wind turbines in western Minnesota. Renewable energy advocates argue it’s only a small percentage, and warn that coal-burning contributes to global warming and mercury contamination.
“The case that will be decided is about the future of power,” said Michael Noble of Fresh-Energy.org. “It is too risky, too costly, too expensive for the ratepayers to build another coal-fired power plant.”
The last major power line built in Minnesota, more than 30 years ago, brought disruption and protest. Utilities say they’re working hard to avoid that, balancing it against Minnesotans who want it all: more energy, with no brownouts or price hikes.
“We’ve had a generation of consumers and employees that have known nothing but surpluses, and preparing for the eventuality where that might not be a given anymore takes quite a perceptive change in thinking,” said Uggurud.
The power utilities say the new coal burning plant will be the cleanest in the nation, but Noble and others at Fresh-Energy.org are skeptical. With the Izaak Walton League and others, they’re preparing to fight any new power line crossing the state.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission begins two weeks of hearings on the transmission lines on Tuesday. They will decide whether Minnesota needs to build more power lines for more energy and, if so, which routes those lines will take across western and central Minnesota.
By Pat Kessler
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