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Power line project gets a green light

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Thursday gave CapX2020 utilities a green light to construct three 345-kilovolt electric transmission lines in Minnesota - including one that goes through Douglas County.

The utilities still need permits for the routes, however.

According to CapX2020 leaders, Thursday's decision confirms the need for a major upgrade of the region's transmission system to meet customers' growing demand for electricity and to increase access to new resources, including renewable energy in southern and western Minnesota and in North Dakota and South Dakota.

"The planning and regulatory review for high-voltage transmission lines is detailed, extensive and comprehensive," said Laura McCarten of Xcel Energy, a CapX2020 co-leader. "The commission's decision affirms the need for new infrastructure that will serve Minnesota customers with affordable, reliable electricity for years to come."

The projects' "certificate of need" application was filed in August 2007, starting a state review process that culminated in Thursday's decision.

The three transmission lines approved are:

• A 240-mile, 345-kilovolt line between Brookings County, South Dakota and Hampton, Minnesota, plus a related 345-kilovolt line between Marshall and Granite Falls.

• A 250-mile, 345-kilovolt line between Fargo, North Dakota and Alexandria, St. Cloud and Monticello.

• A 150-mile, 345-kilovolt line between Hampton, Rochester and La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Route permit applications currently are under state review or in development; decisions are expected in 2010.

State review processes for a 230-kilovolt line between Bemidji and Grand Rapids are under way. Decisions on its certificate of need and route permit are expected in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The commission also included a condition regarding guaranteeing a portion of the capacity of the Brookings-Hampton line for renewable energy.

Similar regulatory processes will be pursued for segments of the three 345-kilovolt lines in Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Permits in those states will be filed in 2009 with decisions expected in 2010. Federal permits will also be applied for in 2009.

Increasing customer demand for electricity spurred the need for new infrastructure, according to CapX2020.

The CapX2020 planning process began in 2004 when utility engineers identified problems meeting expected increases in customers' electricity needs.

Additionally, the lines will provide capacity for resources in transmission-constrained areas, particularly in southern and western Minnesota where new renewable generation is planned.

"[Thursday's] decision provides direction for new transmission that will ensure customers in and near Minnesota will continue to receive reliable electricity and help provide capacity to meet the nation's most aggressive renewable energy standard," said Terry Grove of Great River Energy, a CapX2020 co-leader.

The conceptual plans identified in the 2004 studies underwent extensive analysis to ensure the four projects - the three 345-kilovolt projects and the 230-kilovolt project - would deliver reliable electricity and were appropriate investments for the utilities and their customers, Grove added.

The CapX2020 organization was formed in 2005 to develop the new transmission lines. The planned 700 miles of electric lines is the largest development of new transmission in Minnesota in nearly 30 years, a period in which electricity demand has dramatically increased.

Along with Great River Energy, Elk River, Minn., and Xcel Energy, Minneapolis, utilities or groups that expect to participate in one or more of the CapX2020 projects are: Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency in Blue Earth; Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse, Wisconsin; Minnesota Power in Duluth; Minnkota Power Cooperative in Grand Forks, North Dakota; Missouri River Energy Services (which is Alexandria's power supplier) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Otter Tail Power Company in Fergus Falls; Rochester Public Utilities in Rochester; Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency in Rochester; and WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The ruling by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will be posted on the CapX2020 Web site at