Left in the Dark: The Push for Power

By KBJR News 1

November 14, 2011 Updated Nov 15, 2011 at 10:31 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Across the country, the push is on for more renewable energy sources. In Minnesota, there's a mandate that electric companies must provide 25% of customer power from renewable energy sources by 2025.

But, some fear the more power we add to the grid, the more likely we could be headed for a crisis.

The push for power is evident in North Dakota. Minnesota Power is currently building a wind farm that will produce renewable energy for its Minnesota customers.

"Minnesota Power currently has Bison 1,2,3 that we are working on developing in Center, ND. The first project is expected to be completely online by the end of this year," said Amy Rutledge, the corporate communications manager for Minnesota Power.

The projects are Minnesota Power's response to a mandate calling for renewable energy to make up one fourth of the state's power.

"This is the latest technology in turbines that allows us to capture more of the energy off the plains of North Dakota," Rutledge said.

The wind farm is one of several renewable energy sources popping up across the Midwest. But, with the increasing pressure to turn to renewable power- there is growing concern the current energy transportation system can't handle the added stress.

"There are problems with reliability and congestion, just based on the fact it has been a generation or two since we've updated anything," Johnathan Hladik, an energy advocate with the Center for Rural Affairs told the Northland's NewsCenter's Kevin Jacobsen via Skype.

In fact, officials say there hasn't been an upgrade to the electric transmission grid in the Upper Midwest in nearly 30 years. Energy advocates say we're reaching a critical point with thousands of power customers at risk of being left in the dark.

"To where it doesn't make sense at all to build more wind turbines, more wind developments, because there simply isn't any way to get that electricity from where it's produced to where it's needed most," Hladik said.

To alleviate this potential overload there are efforts to develop transmission lines to handle the added pressure.

One such effort in Minnesota is CapX2020.

It's a joint effort of 11 transmission-owning utilities including Minnesota Power, to expand the grid. The project consists of four lines, totaling more than 700 miles in length.

"What the utilities found is that, okay the system is starting to run out of gas," said Tim Carlsgaards, the spokesperson for CAPX2020 said. "We have a great deal of growth; great deal of industry. We need to upgrade it so that it's good for the next 20 or 30 years"

The Obama administration wants to expedite the permitting and construction process for seven proposed lines in 12 states, including a line that stretches from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

That project is expected to create 1,650 jobs during peak construction.
Another proposed CAPX2020 project is a 70-mile transmission line from Bemidji to Grand Rapids.

"There was never a major transmission line right in that area. You had a lot of other feeds coming into that area," Carlsgaard said.

In the case of Minnesota Power's bison wind turbine project, the company took advantage of a transmission line already in place from North Dakota to Northern Minnesota.

"By making that purchase of the DC Line, we really have, in part, been able to bring low cost renewable energy to our customers," Rutledge said.

But, upgrading the grid won't come without struggle. Many homeowners living in the path of proposed transmission lines say they don't want them in their backyards.

Tuesday night (11/15) at ten, we'll take a closer look at the hurdles facing the push for more energy.

More Information
CAPX2020
Center for Rural Affairs

Written for the web by Kevin Jacobsen
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