Regional wind-energy proposal gets mixed reaction
Mar 9, 2009 - The Associated Press
A proposal for a high-voltage power line that would transmit wind energy from sparsely populated areas of the gusty Midwest to some less-windy parts of the country is getting mixed reaction in Minnesota.
ITC Holdings of Novi, Mich., wants to build a 3,000-mile, 765-kilovolt power line that would stretch from the Dakotas through Minnesota to Chicago. The line, estimated to cost $10 billion to $12 billion, would help the Midwest feed the nation's appetite for renewable energy. The project has been dubbed "The Green Power Express."
But while wind power is seen by some as a jobs-producing, renewable source of energy, transmission lines have drawn opposition from local landowners, environmentalists and even some renewable-energy advocates.
Minnesota is No. 4 when it comes to wind-producing states. The state has ambitious goals for producing renewable energy - but some say it won't be able to meet those goals unless there are more and bigger transmission lines.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she hasn't made up her mind on the project yet, but she sees exporting wind power as a way to boost economic development, and she doesn't want the Green Power Express to pass through Minnesota without carrying some state-produced wind energy.
"We want to be part of the action," she said.
Most renewable energy advocates say poor transmission is stifling plans to bring resources to the mainstream. But others say the push for high-voltage lines is expensive and unnecessary.
The support for big projects like the Green Power Express will override state regulations that call for the least-cost alternatives, say critics including David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis think tank that supports wind power but not high-voltage transmission projects.
"I would call it a 'runaway express train' rather than the Green Power Express," he said, adding that individual states have enough renewable resources to create their own clean energy. Through conservation and the use of "smart grids" that are smaller and more efficient, the nation could avoid building many high-voltage transmission lines, he said.
While the debate over the Green Power Express is just beginning, another transmission project in the works might indicate what lies ahead.
In southeastern Minnesota, landowners and residents organized to oppose a transmission project called CapX 2020 that would crisscross the state with three 345-kilovolt lines. CapX 2020 is backed by 11 regional utilities and is expected to cost $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion. The state Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a decision on the project in the next few months.
The Citizens Energy Task Force was created to fight CapX 2020, and also opposes the Green Power Express.
CapX officials, who come from local utilities concerned only with strengthening Minnesota's grid, don't consider the ITC project a competitor. The ITC lines are too powerful to make it easy to deliver power within the state, according to CapX co-director Terry Grove.
"It's strictly for export," he said.
But Doug Collins, executive director of ITC Midwest, a subsidiary of ITC Holdings that's managing the project, said the project could serve "load centers" such as the Twin Cities and Madison, Wis.
"We need robust systems, and as the amounts of power needed for further growth increased, the need increased to transport them further away to load centers," Collins said.
The American Wind Energy Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, agrees.
"We have almost 300,000 megawatts of wind projects on paper in the interconnection queues, and they won't move forward until more transmission is built," said Rob Gramlich, the energy association's policy director.
National Wind of Minneapolis is endorsing the ITC project. Jack Levi, co-chairman of National Wind, believes construction of the Green Power Express could give the company a road to market.
"The more lines planned, the more projects get built," he said.
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com