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Three new power lines on the horizon?  

With new wind farms getting ready to spin hundreds of turbines in southeastern Minnesota, four utility companies – including Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest – now want to string new wires to take the electricity to users, including those in Rochester.

Xcel, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, Rochester Public Utilities and Great River Energy from the northern Twin Cities are planning a trio of transmission lines in Mower, Dodge and Olmsted counties.

The two longest lines, which could be carrying energy by 2011 or 2012, would start from Great River Energy’s existing generating station at Pleasant Valley near Sargeant. They would run:

• north to a big electrical intersection at Byron.

• northeast to Rochester’s far south side, where Rochester Public Utilities would construct a substation to serve that rapidly growing area. RPU also would tie that substation into its existing Willow Creek substation on the southeast side.

The third line essentially would piggyback on an existing transmission line. It would use the same pole from the Byron substation east and then head north to a future substation, also built by Rochester Public Utilities, near the west fringe of the city.

Both RPU connections would strengthen the city’s network. “We’ve seen a need for a number of years for a southside substation,” RPU spokesman Tony Benson said. “With this project, we’re able to tie it all in,” he said.

More independent sources for power also make the system more reliable.

The lines are not yet formally proposed with state regulators. But Xcel wants to hand its plans to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for consideration this fall, said project manager Grant Stevenson.

If approved, the new wires will become high-voltage highways to carry power from nearby wind farms to market.

“For Xcel, it provides an outlet for the wind(power) that’s being developed down by the Dexter-Adams area,” Stevenson said. “That’s already being built right now.”

He’s referring to the Wapsipinicon Wind Project, being developed by California-based enXco Inc. in that area. As many as 137 turbines are scheduled to start churning out electricity from the project by Dec. 31. Once construction is done, Xcel has a deal to buy and operate 67 of them for its portion, named Grand Meadow Wind Farm.

Rochester-based SMMPA also has a long-term agreement to purchase all power generated by about the same number of turbines from the Wapsipinicon project.

Great River Energy would provide the key connection point between the wind developments and the 161,000-volt transmission lines at the large Pleasant Valley power plant near Sargeant.

From there, Xcel would build and own the two lines stretching to Byron and Rochester, probably spending about $40 million for construction, Stevenson said.

SMMPA officials have not yet decided whether the agency will pick up the tab for the third line. It would run from the Byron substation to RPU future Westside Substation at 60th Avenue and 19th Street Northwest.

The entire project could cost $50 million to $60 million. The new transmission lines likely would take at least two years to be approved and to build, Stevenson said. Until then, the power from any farms that go into operation would be squeezed on to the grid whenever possible, he said.

By Bob Freund

Post-Bulletin

3 July 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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