Wind energy in the Midwest is one step closer towards developing the necessary infrastructure changes that will support greater wind energy on the power grid! From June 2008 until January 2009, Administrative Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger held hearings to gather public comments on the need for three of the proposed CapX 2020 transmission line projects. After reviewing the numerous public comments that have been submitted both in written form and throughout various hearings, on Febuary 27th, 2009, Judge Heydinger submitted a report to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The report demonstrated the need for the three proposed 345 kV projects and recommended their approval. If approved, 630 miles of 345 kV power lines will be constructed, connecting Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The three transmission line projects are

· the Hampton-Rochester -La Crosse, Wisconsin project,
· the Brookings County, South Dakota-Hampton project,
· and the Fargo-St. Cloud-Monticello, Minnesota project.

If developed, these transmission lines will allow larger quantities of wind energy to be delivered from production areas to load centers.

More construction of high voltage transmission infrastructure will encourage further wind energy development in these Midwestern states due to increased grid capacity. In addition, these new lines would minimize electricity loss of wind energy during transfer, making it easier for wind to compete with conventional fuel sources.

However, there is still one more hurdle to overcome.

In making her recommendation, Judge Heydinger noted that the CapX 2020 transmission lines did not have to necessarily allocate room for renewable energy.

Though the ruling did not come down on the side of the wind industry in its omission of a renewable energy mandate for the CapX2020 lines, the existing Renewable Energy Standards in Minnesota will help get renewables onto the grid. Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard now requires utilities to provide 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Furthermore, Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel’s energy, is required to supply the population with 30% renewable energy by 2020. Without new high voltage transmission lines, it would be exceedingly difficult to transfer the required amount of renewable energy needed to meet these standards.

In the next few months, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will hold several public hearings and will decide whether there is a need for the high voltage transfer lines. If they determine there is a need, the CapX2020 projects will have to undergo a lengthy development process that includes applying for route permits and conducting environmental impact statements before the transmission lines can be built.