Great news for wind power in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest: on September 8, a Minnesota administrative law judge recommended that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approve a new long-distance transmission line in southern Minnesota. Fresh Energy, along with many of our clean energy allies, has been advocating for this line for more than 10 years. The PUC will now decide whether to adopt the judge’s recommendation and fully approve the line in the next few months. Once the PUC has ruled in favor of the line, construction can begin.
Once it’s built, the approximately 100-mile line will run from Jackson County to Faribault County, connecting with powerlines in Iowa to provide a crucial outlet for wind development in the Buffalo Ridge region—Minnesota’s best wind resource. Currently, wind development at Buffalo Ridge has maxed out what the area’s existing transmission can handle. In fact, wind power is now curtailed on some of the windiest days because there’s no room for it on existing lines. Because of this bottleneck, all planned future wind projects in the area—including Xcel Energy’s most recent announcement for 750 megawatts of new wind—are now contingent on this new line (as well as other proposed wind lines in the region). Without the line, it’s unlikely that any new projects would be built in the region, as there’s no way to deliver the electricity economically. However, the new line will provide an additional 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of capacity—potentially unlocking millions of dollars in wind energy production tax revenue while carrying more wind electricity to where it’s needed in the Midwest.
Looking ahead, the approval of this important Minnesota wind line is just one piece of a larger puzzle: making sure the region has enough transmission in place to deliver all of the wind power that Minnesota can produce. This Minnesota line is one of 17 lines throughout the Midwest that were approved in 2011 by the Midwest’s grid operator after eight years of advocacy by the wind industry and clean energy advocates. This 17-line package was designed to update the grid and allow it to deliver enough renewable energy to meet the Midwest’s many renewable standards. While a number of the lines in the regional package have already been approved by state regulators, many—including two in Wisconsin and one in Iowa that are equally critical for Minnesota and Upper Midwestern wind power—still need state approval.
Fresh Energy continues to advocate for each of these lines and we hope to share similar success stories about all of them over the next few years.