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Minnesota PUC approves segment of huge transmission project  

Credit:  By Frank Jossi, Finance & Commerce, finance-commerce.com 20 April 2012 ~~

Another leg of a spider web of 700 miles of high voltage power lines that will transform the upper Midwest’s transmission landscape was approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week.

In approving a 150-mile segment of CapX2020 that places a 345 kilovolt (kV) line from Hampton in Dakota County to Alma, Wis., the PUC on April 12 dismissed two changes recommended by a state administrative law judge in February.

The judge, Kathleen Sheehy, had recommended the Highway 52 route take a bypass at Cannon Falls and cross the Cannon and Zumbro rivers at points where dams are located.

Tim Carlsgaard, Xcel Energy’s spokesman, said the utility was pleased the commission reversed the judge’s recommendations. Xcel, the primary sponsor of CapX2020, was not the only party cheering the change.

Dakota County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Schouweiler said the judge’s suggestions would have run part of the line through Lake Byllesby Regional Park, potentially ruining the natural experience visitors seek.

“The commissioners listened to the testimony that was given at the hearing by staff and Xcel that brought up issues with the administrative law judge’s recommendations,” she said. “It helped the creditability of our testimony against the recommended changes.”

The commission selected the route that has the line cross the Cannon River on Highway 52 and at Zumbro Lake at White Bridge Road before reaching Kellogg, a city on the Mississippi River.

The PUC also approved one of two 161kV lines that branch off the 345 kV line and attach to two substations in the Rochester area owned by the Rochester Public Utilities.

“CapX2020 is very important for our system reliability,” said Tony Benson, spokesman for the utility. “We have not had a transmission upgrade in this part of the state in 30 years.”

CapX2020 is a $1.9 billion project – $1 billion representing Xcel’s contribution – that will help bring wind power into the Midwest electrical grid and upgrade lines in several growing communities in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

The major routes for all the Minnesota sections of CapX2020 now have been approved. Just a 20-mile, 161 kV line running from Rochester to the Hampton-Alma line still needs approval, and that will likely come from the PUC in June, Carlsgaard said.

In an enormous undertaking, Xcel contacted 73,000 landowners while planning the transmission grid – 10,000 in the Hampton-Alma section alone, Carlsgaard said. “This is the biggest transmission built-out in the country,” he said.

The project includes support from 10 other utilities in addition to Xcel and from the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), a regional electricity management organization that covers 11 states, he noted. The Rochester utility, for example, is paying 9 percent of the cost of the Hampton-Alma section.

Different parts of the line are designed to achieve specific goals. Much of the electricity on the 250-mile Brookings-Hampton route, now under construction, will be generated by wind farms in South Dakota and western Minnesota in an area known as Buffalo Ridge.

Since the Brookings-Hampton section received approval as a “multi-value” project by MISO that organization will contribute toward paying part of its cost. Construction on it begins this spring.

Outside of the Hampton-Brookings-Alma projects, Cap X2020 has three other sections. The shortest, the 28-mile Monticello-St. Cloud line that can be seen on Interstate 94, was completed last December.

Several sections use 140- to 170-foot towers that required helicopters to install the lines, Carlsgaard said.

The 68-mile Bemidji-Grand Rapids, a 230 kV project, is under way and will be completed this year. The 210-mile Fargo-St. Cloud provides a 345 kV line that includes Alexandra will begin soon begin construction, Carlsgaard said.

Although the PUC voted to approve the Hampton-Alma section, he pointed out that the final written order still has to be issued within the next two months. The commission could still make changes or clarify any disputes still lingering.

Then in June the Wisconsin Public Service Commission will look at a proposed $425 million “Badger Coulee” line from Alma to northern Dane County, home of Madison, he said. The 345 kV project is being proposed by Waukesha, Wis.-based American Transmission Co.

Xcel is in a struggle with ATC because of ownership issues involving the project. Through its Northern States Power-Wisconsin subsidiary, Xcel claims that federal rules suggest if a transmission line connects to substations of two different utilities they must share ownership of the project.

ATC disagrees. NSP-Wisconsin has filed a complaint against ATC with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but no decision has been announced.

Every CapX2020 project is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

Source:  By Frank Jossi, Finance & Commerce, finance-commerce.com 20 April 2012

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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