More transmission? CapX 2050? They’re NUTS!

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by admin on August 19, 2019 @ 6:09 pm

First there was CapX 2020 transmission (following Arrowhead transmission, which was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of transmission)(and the SW MN 345kV line, precursor to CapX 2020. CapX transmission was based on a forecasted 2.49% increase in demand, which as we know, didn’t happen.

And there was the MISO 17 project MVP Portfolio:

Tomorrow, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is making its decision regarding the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission project, the southern part of MVP #5 above, and the LAST of the MVP projects to go through state administrative approval.

So today, this press release:

FINAL-CapX 2020 Press Release

And this in the STrib:

Minnesota utilities will study if the $2B CapX2020 grid improvements were enough

The study beginning in January will look at whether renewable energy goals and other factors will bolster need to build out more improvements on transmission grid. 

By Mike Hughlett Star Tribune AUGUST 19, 2019 — 3:05PM

Photo: DAVID JOLESA utility worker assesses electrical power lines in south Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s largest power companies and several other Upper Midwest utilities will study how their transmission network must be bolstered to meet increasingly aggressive renewable energy goals.

The study is being launched at a time when space on the region’s Midwest’s grid is already tight — even after a $2 billion transmission expansion that was completed just a couple of years ago.

That project, called CapX2020, was the work of Xcel Energy, Great River Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and seven other electricity providers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. CapX2020 took over seven years to complete and included 800 miles of new high-voltage lines.

Ten of the 11 utilities involved in the earlier project Monday announced the “CapX2050” study, which they are aiming to complete in January. The study “will look at maintaining a safe, reliable and cost-effective electric grid as the system adds more carbon-free energy,” the utilities said in a statement.

CapX2020 was the largest transmission project in the Upper Midwest since the 1970s, and it was aimed partly at freeing up power line capacity for burgeoning renewable energy production.

The U.S. electrical grid was built to serve large centralized power plants, but wind and solar farms are more dispersed, often requiring transmission build outs. Xcel has stated plans to produce 100% carbon-free power by 2050, while other utilities also are planning for significantly more renewables.

Also, Minnesota’s DFL Party has strongly backed raising Minnesota’s overall carbon-free energy goal to 100% by 2050.

The CapX2020 project isn’t enough to meet those long-term needs and the grid is essentially “at capacity,” an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Star Tribune last year.

Xcel’s latest long-term resource plan, filed this spring, came to a similar conclusion. “Many of these (CapX2020) lines planned in the early 2000s and completed over the recent past are already fully-or-nearly-fully subscribed,” the plan said.

So that said, here’s Xcel Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan’s Appendix on transmission:

The schedule for IRP hearings was just released, it’s in October, so there’s time to make time for it:

We know Xcel Energy gets a “handsome” rate of return for transmission capital expenditures (hence “CapX transmission), so of course they want to build more.

How about shutting down some of those coal plants, and freeing up some capacity? How about siting solar on every rooftop, over every parking lot, putting the generation at load so we don’t need transmission? Oh, but wait, that makes too much sense, especially where a utility wants to keep control of the generation, and the expenditures, and rake in the dough.

Time to pay attention to the IRP. URP!

Xcel’s bogus demand forecast basis for CapX

arrowdownRemember Xcel’s CapX 2020 peak demand projections of 2.49% annual increase?  How wrong can they be?  And how unjustified was their basis for a Certificate of Need for CapX 2020?  And how are they held accountable for those gross misrepresentations?  But now it’s time to pay, and who will pay?  This is why the rate case in progress, PUC Docket 15-826, is so important.

On the other hand, I love it when this happens… Xcel Peak Demand is again DOWN!  There’s a trend, and it’s called decreased demand.  Demand has yet to exceed the 2007 peak, and now it’s 8 years…


Here’s the Xcel Energy SEC 10-K filed a couple days ago:

2015 – Xcel Energy 10-K

Is it any wonder they want to get away from a cost based rate a la their “e21 Initiative” scheme?  Particularly now that the bill for CapX 2020 is coming due and their newest rate case (PUC Docket GR-15-826) is now underway?

And the specifics, and note how they inexplicably forecast a 2016 peak of 9,327, which is based on a “normal weather conditions” assumption:

2015-Xcel Peak Demand Chart

Capping off the CapX 2020 project…

Filed under:Hampton-Alma-LaCrosse — posted by admin on October 10, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

I guess I’m not the only one putting this project in bankers boxes and wrapping it up.  11 years on this project, and it’s up, it’s built, wires in the air, cor-ten steel soldiers marching across the hills.  Yeah, it didn’t go in a few places it shouldn’t, but it went up in a lot of places it shouldn’t, like EVERYWHERE.  This project never should have been built.  2.49% annual increase in peak demand…  Yeah, right…  What a scam… and they got what they wanted, transmission for their surplus, sending it off to market, wherever.  Driving to WI last week, first passing under the span just below Wabasha, and then seeing the lines glistening in the sun stretching south of Alma, it was so depressing.  I hear there’s an article in the latest Zumbrota paper about it, guess people are finally noticing something is happening.  So hard to get people to care, and now it’s too late.

So after a long, long day of writing, bleary eyed, I head downstairs, see that there’s junk mail falling out into the porch, and checked outside to see if my 6 month tea order arrived, YES, it did, but noooooo, that’s not a Stash label… hmmmmm, and way too light.


And dig the back, “La Crosse Project” SNORT!  Suzanne, Steve, George and Guy, eat your heart out…


WHEW!!!  With receipt of this, my hourly rate on this project has just quadrupled!  And it’s appropriate dark mourning color.  Yeah, it’s over.  Too few glimmers of light, other than that landowners are winning on “Buy the Farm” cases, it’s not over the Laymen for Christ campground, or over NORCA and NRG North Routes, and I got my easement client almost 4 times their original lowball offer.

Thank you, little birdie!


PR shill hits it out of the park!

Filed under:Hampton-Alma-LaCrosse,News coverage — posted by admin on September 24, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

PB_ForumRochester Post Bulletin’s CapX 2020 Forum — 11/7/2010

Oh, Tim Carlsbad really did it today!  SNORT!!!  He’s doing a great job, though I do think he’s really needed back in sex trafficking at the UN.

This was a long, long, day, and here it is, I’ve arrived… I’ve reached the pinnacle of my illustrious legal career, well, second to the Senator Steve Murphy letter to a certain Minnesota Mayor… and… well… it’s certainly up there with the infamous Michael Murphy complaint to the Goodhue County Sheriff!

What the heck am I snorting about?

It’s the Carol Overland question!  But it’s not a question.  We all know it’s a statement,because CapX 2020 is transmission they don’t need and we don’t want!

Here ’tis, but be sure to swallow your coffee, tea, or even beer, first [with some comments, like this!] — wonder why they blocked me from making comments — guess I’ll have to do it here with No CapX 2020:

Answer Man: When power usage is generally flat, why build a power line?

Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2015 10:25 am

Dear Answer Man, you’ve been just about the only consistent source of local information on the CapX2020 power line. Can you remind me, why was this power line needed in the first place? Has power consumption been going up so much that a $2 billion power line was needed?

That’s a very good question, and tough to answer because the information is always a little dated, the project spans a huge area and involves many power utilities with different needs, and infrastructure of this kind is built in anticipation of future demand. The CapX people would tell you that it’s the largest power transmission system built in the state in 35 to 40 years, and that it was needed because the demand for electricity in the region has grown about 2 percent a year for the past decade.

It’s about 800 miles long and will cost more than $2 billion when the final checks are written.

When I asked Tim Carlsgaard, communications and public affairs manager for Xcel Energy, to recap the rationale for CapX2020, he called this “the Carol Overland question,” a reference to the activist attorney from Red Wing who was a leader in trying to stop the project.

I’m sure Carol will enjoy seeing her name attached to this question.

“Each CapX2020 utility will have a different answer to this question,” Carlsgaard said by email. “Concerning demand, you need to look at the Resource Plans that each utility must file with the respective public utilities commissions. Nevertheless, there are many factors as to why you build transmission, including meeting peak demand, regional reliability and providing capacity to support renewable energy development.

He also said the CapX lines “are helping the individual utility partners meet the Minnesota renewable energy mandate of 25 percent by 2025 (30 percent by 2020 for Xcel). As you know, there are not a lot of wind turbines within 20 miles of Rochester. I’m sure you are aware of the wind developers who have attempted to build wind farms in the vicinity of the Rochester metro area and were denied. … most of the wind farms in the Upper Midwest are located in far western and southern Minnesota and eastern Dakotas.”

Actually, I’m not aware of a gold rush in the immediate Rochester metro area for wind farms, though there are plenty in Dodge and Mower counties. But in any case, renewable energy is one reason the lines were needed.

Regarding power usage, project opponents have said from the beginning that electricity use has been flat for several years and will actually decline in the near term, thanks to conservation measures and greater efficiency. According to a filing last year by Xcel, which is a lead partner in the project, the utility said its “current forecast indicates a slight downward correction, projecting average growth over the 2017-2022 period to be less than 0.60 percent compared to the September 2013 update, which indicated average growth of 0.90 percent.  [CapX 2020 was predicated on their 2.49% annual increase, which we knew then, and their SEC filings now demonstrate, is utter bull-poo-poo.  The “Answer Man” still can’t admit that major “miscalculation.”]

“This lower expected growth rate in customer demand represents a 22 MW reduction in the forecasted median Peak Demand in 2017, growing to a 190 MW reduction by 2021, and a 388 MW reduction in 2024.”

The U.S. Department of Energy says that residential energy consumption in Minnesota was more or less flat from 2004 to 2011, which is the most current report I could find on that score. [somebody didn’t look very hard, they disclose this in their quarterly SEC filings, here’s the June 30, 2015:  Xcel Energy admits “growth” is down]Rochester Public Utilities and SMMPA are also partners in the project. According to a report in 2012, [note he’s citing an Xcel Resource Acquisition Compliance that I posted!  Yup, he sure has the answers…] the CapX upgrades to the 161kV lines around Rochester were expected to relieve transmission “constraints,” which will “benefit RPU in that it can rely more on imported power to meet its electric supply obligations.” Conversely, RPU can “reduce its reliance on internal generation to meet its reliability goals,” which is important with the closing of its smoke-belching, coal-fired generators at Silver Lake.

To my reader’s point about me being the best source of information on CapX2020 over the years, especially during the permitting process: I defy you to find a reporter who has followed this more closely, and I’ve posed more questions than I’ve answered.

NUCLEAR?!?! What is MN Senate thinking?

Filed under:Laws & Rules,Nuts & Bolts — posted by admin on March 2, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

Prairie Island nuclear plant

That’s “our” reactor, the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, here in Red Wing, it’s within the city limits (which were expanded to include the plant).  I represented Florence Township from 1995, when Xcel, f/k/a NSP, applied to put nuclear waste in Florence Township under the “alternate site mandate,” and that went on, and on, and on, until they finally withdrew their application at the NRC in … what, 1999?  2000?  That’s one I thought would never end.  But that’s the thing about nuclear, it’s never over.


There are two bills before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee TOMORROW:

  • SF306 is simply worded, deleting the Minn. Stat. 216.243, Subd. 3b prohibition of new construction of a nuclear plant and changes it to “Additional storage of spent nuclear fuel” and over the previous language that states: “Any certificate of need for additional storage of spent nuclear fuel for a facility seeking a license extension shall address the impacts of continued operations over the period for which approval is sought.”  It’s authored by Kiffmeyer, coauthored by Dahms and Anderson.

SF536So we have a blanket repeal of the nuclear construction prohibition, and a specific opening for a Certificate of Need for a nuclear generator at the Monticello site.

Authors contact info is linked above, and emails for Senate Energy committee members and the authors are also listed below.

Whether it’s targeted as a replacement for the Fukushima Daiichi style GE plant, or whether it’s to add and operate a second reactor, WHY?

First, there’s no need.  There is a glut of electricity, as our friend, Xcel’s Ben Fowkes said, when they could no longer keep up the GROW GROW GROW fiction.  Here’s the Seeking Alpha transcript of the XEL Earnings Call, January 31, 2013. 

So I think the economies are in decent shape across all our jurisdictions. Doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to high sales growth. And that’s consistent with our forecast. I mean, we’re not anticipating that we’re going to see a tremendous rebound in sales, even as the economies start to improve. I mean, I think, that’s our new normal, frankly.

For last year:

Finally, NSP-Minnesota sales increased six-tenths of a percent driven by growth in the number of residential and small C&I customers and usage increases in the small C&I class.

From Xcel’s IRP (Docket 15-21), p. 45 of 102:

Historic&ForecastPeakDemand_IRPp45And here’s what they had to say about that (note they do NOT go back further than 2011, so we don’t get to see the 2000-2010 numbers):

We forecast a period of relatively flat growth such that our median base peak will increase only 0.4 percent in each year of the planning period…

That chart is NOT consistent with the 2014 SEC 10K filing, which shows a 2014 peak demand of 8,848 MW (info below is linked, see p. 9 at 10-K link):

Capacity and Demand
Uninterrupted system peak demand for the NSP System’s electric utility for each of the last three years and the forecast for 2015, assuming normal weather, is listed below.

That lower number is consistent with the downward trend of the 2014 NERC Long Term Reliability Assessment, now showing growth rates at lowest levels on record (note that it has NEVER been close to the CapX 2020 “forecast” of 2.49% annually):

2014 NERC-Wide Demand

And here’s the picture for MISO from the 2014 NERC Long Term Reliability Assessment:

MISO Peak Demand Reserve Margins

2014 NERC Long Term Reliability Assessment, p. 38 (or p. 46 of 115 pdf).

Also from the 2014 SEC 10-K link:


So we don’t “need” it, there’s no talk of a new nuclear plant in their recently filed IRP.  So why???

And the “WHY?” may be clearer when taken into context with last week’s hearing at House Energy, where the intent, in part, behind legislation there was to make Minnesota an exporter of energy.  Again, WHY?  Why make the state an exporter of energy?  And if we do what would that do for our rates here?  How does that fit with Xcel’s well funded plan to institute its e21 Initiative, and how does that fit with Xcel’s desire to use ratepayer money to find other market options?  The House bill would let natural gas plants be built without a Certificate of Need, whether by an IPP or regulated utility, with the key being that they are selling into the MISO grid, and not for Minnesota native load.

But nuclear is SO expensive!  First, there’s an immediate example of nuclear construction cost overruns right here in Minnesota, at the Monticello nuclear plant, where they went way beyond what was approved in the Certificate of Need:

Xcel management blamed for cost overruns at Monticello

So what was that about?  Costs more than doubled, increased by a factor of 2.33!!!  From the article:

The project to extend the plant’s life and increase power output ballooned from an estimated $320 million in 2008 to $665 million when it was completed last year. However, the final price tag likely will rise to $748 million, including construction-in-progress financial costs.

And let’s look at new construction, the first new nuclear plant in the US in 30 years:

C&U disputes Southern Co. claim for $247 million in penalties for cost overruns at Plant Vogtle

The cost punchline on the Vogtle plant?  Southern, Westinghouse and CB&I are already in court over previous cost overruns on the project, which is currently expected to cost $14.5 billion.

Here’s that other project:

Shaw Power Group, Westinghouse, face cost issues at S.C. project.

The cost punch line here?  The NRC is expected to act soon on the Summer license. Summer is projected to cost about $9 billion.

Building new plants?  Well, NEI has some info, BUT it’s outdated, nuclear has not caught up, and this is the most current I can find on the site (HERE’S THE WHOLE REPORT):

CapitalCosts2013So please explain — why would anyone want to build a new nuclear plant?

  • There is no need.
  • They cost so much that it’s unreasonable to even consider, and is the definition of imprudent!

Why are Reps. Kiffmeyer and Anderson trying to make this a possibility?  Is this for real?  Is it a diversion from some other issue?


To contact the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, go to COMMITTEE LINK, because many MN Senators have form access, not direct emails.  Boo-hiss…  Here are the emails listed, but go to link to see the buttons for the Senators with form access only:;;;;;;;;

Senate authors:;;

SF306 is authored by Kiffmeyer, coauthored by Dahms and Anderson, click names for links!

SF0536 is authored by Anderson only.

HF338 is sponsored by O’Neill ; Newberger ; Garofalo ; Howe ; Baker ; McDonald ; Nornes, click names for links!

Xcel Energy demand down, down, down!

Filed under:Laws & Rules,News coverage,Nuts & Bolts,PUC Docket,Reports - Documents — posted by admin on September 28, 2014 @ 9:21 am


I’ve been saying this for so many years, that electric demand is down, down, down, and instead, Xcel Energy (and all the others) have been saying it’s going UP, UP, UP (even though Mikey Bull said years ago that they wouldn’t need power for a while), and they’re applying for and getting Certificates of Need for all these permits for utility infrastructure that are obviously designed to market and sell the surplus, and the Public Utilities pretends to be oblivious (I say “pretends” because I cannot believe they’re that unaware and uninformed.).

This is a must read:

Xcel Compliance Filing_CN-13-606_20149-103251-02

Here’s the short version from Xcel:


2024 is expected to be about what it was back in 2007, the industry peak year.  DOH!  But note this — there’s a “small capacity surplus in 2016.”  DOH!


And given the surplus which we’ve known has been present and looming larger, that’s why they then ask for withdrawal of the Certificate of Need for the Prairie Island uprate because it isn’t needed (and really, that was just what, 80 MW or so?  Or 80 MW x 2 reactors, 160 MW?).  If they don’t need that small uprate, why on earth would they need so much more?


But what do I know…

Hollydale Transmission Line was clearly not needed, and they withdrew that application…

CapX 2020 transmission was based on a 2.49% annual increase in demand, and for Hampton-La Crosse in part supposedly based on Rochester and La Crosse demand numbers, yeah right, we know better, but that was their party line.  Again, DOH, it didn’t add up to needing a big honkin’ 345 kV transmission line stretching from the coal plants in the Dakotas to Madison and further east, but who cares, let’s just build it…

ITC MN/IA 345 kV line — the state said the 161 kV should be sufficient to address transmission deficiencies in the area, but noooooo, DOH, that wouldn’t address the “need” for bulk power transfer (the real desire for the line).

Here’s a bigger picture of the bottom line (I’m accepting this as a more accurate depiction, not necessarily the TRUTH, but close enough for electricity), keeping in mind that these are PROJECTIONS, and that they’re adding a “Coincident Peak adjustment” which should be included in the “peak” calculations):

Xcel Resource Need Assessment 2014

Notice the only slight reduction in coal capacity, just 19 MW, nuclear stays the same, a 320 MW decrease in gas, a 128 MW reduction in Wind, Hydro, Biomass, which I hope includes garbage burners and the Benson turkey shit plant , slight increase in solar of 18 MW, and Load Management also a slight increase of only 80 MW.  This is Xcel Energy with its business as usual plan, which has to go.  We can do it different, and now is the time.

Will someone explain why we paid so much to uprate Monticello, and paid to rebuild Sherco 3?


From the archives:

500+ give LS Power a piece of their mind

October 20th, 2009

2012 NERC Long Term Reliability Assessment

May 7th, 2013

PJM Demand is DOWN!

November 15th, 2012

Decreased demand continues…

Filed under:News coverage,Nuts & Bolts,Reports - Documents — posted by admin on April 21, 2013 @ 1:30 pm


How did this happen?  Somebody’s sleeping at the switch!  I forgot to post the link for the 2012 Earnings Call transcript from Seeking Alpha! And it’s a doozy.  You can find the FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE.

Northern States Power – Minnesota estimates a  decrease of demand in Minnesota of about 1.2% (-1.2%) in 2013:

Andrew M. Weisel – Macquarie Research

A few questions on behalf of Angie Storozynski. First question is you talked quite a bit qualitatively about the load growth expectations, but can you give us the number that you’re expecting for 2013 and in the long term?

Teresa S. Madden – Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President

Sure. I mean, in terms of 2013, maybe if I just talk about it by operating company. We’re — for NSP-Minnesota, we’re looking at a decrease of about 1.2%, NSP-Wisconsin expected to be flat. In Colorado, just under 1%, actually, that’s more about 0.6%. And in Colorado — I mean, excuse me, and in Texas, over — just around 3%, I would say. So overall, we expect it to come in between up to 0.5% on a consolidated basis.

XEL Earnings Call, January 31, 2013.

Benjamin G. S. Fowke – Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President

Well, everything — overall, on the residential side, it’s safe to say everything is pretty flat. So then you move to the C&I side, and actually, the strongest C&I growth was in Wisconsin this year, followed by Texas, I think, followed by Colorado, which had small growth. And then we were — we didn’t grow at all in Minnesota for a number of reasons. That said, the economy definitely saw some signs of improvement in 2012. Housing permits were up. Job growth was better than the national average. Unemployment was equal to or better than the national average. So I think the economies are in decent shape across all our jurisdictions. Doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to high sales growth. And that’s consistent with our forecast. I mean, we’re not anticipating that we’re going to see a tremendous rebound in sales, even as the economies start to improve. I mean, I think, that’s our new normal, frankly.

That’s also reflected in their SEC filing showing decreased peak demand, from 9,792 in 2011 to 9,475 in 2012, and a forecast of 9,215 for 2013:

Northern States Power 10-K (2012).  Those are numbers I like to see.

Meanwhile, for example, Xcel has produced “forecasting” for the Hollydale Transmission Project that shows another picture entirely — that’s because the Hollydale application is based on old and outdated forecasts from 2006, the peak demand prior to the 2007 economic crash, and bases its need claim on a forecast of 1% annual growth in peak demand:

Hollydale Application, p. 42-48; 50-57; see also 12, 14, 35, 38; see also Table 2 and Table 3, p. 48-49.  Xcel’s “Hollydale Need Addendum,” dated January 24, 2013, exacerbates this error claiming a 1.8% growth rate and using a 1.8% growth projection for its forecasts.  Michlig Direct, Schedule 2, Hollydale Need Addendum, p. 24.  For the full Hollydale docket, go HERE and search for CoN Docket 12-113 or Routing Docket 11-152.

Remember the 2.49% annual increase of peak demand that CapX 2020 is based on?  What would this “Percent Load Growth Over Time” chart look like with a -1.2% and no expected improvement for the foreseeable future?

Strangely biased STrib article today

Filed under:News coverage — posted by admin on April 11, 2010 @ 1:36 pm


UPDATE: Strangely biased and TWICE removed!  Curiouser and curiouser — the two articles below have been pulled by the STrib, but not quick enough to prevent posting here, and and istockAnalyst:


Today’s STrib has an article that presents CapX 2020 transmission with a narrow focus on just one little piece of a 600+ mile transmission line:

Mammoth high-voltage line alarms residents

As landowners worry about the $1.7 billion CapX2020 project, officials say expanding the power grid is necessary.


April 10, 2010 – 6:14 PM

Like most people, Eric Johnson never really thought much about transmission lines.

But now that a high-voltage power line threatens to dwarf his Dakota County home, he thinks about it every day.

The inch-thick aluminum and steel cable draped on steel poles some 10 stories high has become a nightly topic for Johnson and his wife, Kristen, who worry about health issues and raising their three young children so close to the 345-kilovolt line. They fear it will force them to abandon their home — and their life savings.

“This is all we have,” said Eric, a grounds maintenance contractor.

The Johnsons are among thousands of Minnesotans in the path of CapX2020, one of the most ambitious expansions of Minnesota’s transmission grid ever. The $1.7 billion project will add 700 miles of overhead wires capable of moving 4,500 megawatts of electricity, expanding the grid by about 30 percent. Work is to begin later this year.

State energy officials and utility regulators say the expansion is necessary. An increasingly wired population and growth in areas such as St. Cloud and Rochester have created bottlenecks they fear will only worsen as the economy recovers.

Even so, opposition from those in the path of CapX2020 has grown. While the knitting together of the nation’s Balkanized grid may be an inevitability, CapX2020 offers a sneak preview of the painful ground-level realities. Wires will cross people’s yards and farmland. They make noise and affect property values. The higher voltages needed to move power long distances raise safety questions for those living near them.

“Would you feel comfortable living under lines like that?” asked Percy Scherbenske, a Thoroughbred horse breeder in Hampton who’s worried that the CapX2020 line that could run past his barn would put him out of business.

How much success they’ll have fighting the utilities remains uncertain. State lawmakers are working on legislation to hold utilities to a higher standard — the same as governments — when it comes to taking private land for projects.

Alfred Marcus, a management professor at the University of Minnesota, said Minnesota, and the nation, needs a new way to help utilities and landowners negotiate impasses or stalemates could stifle economic progress.

“There’s an institutional void around this issue,” Marcus said. “Nobody has the incentive to say come, on, let’s sit down.”

Remembering Bolt Weevils

Many Minnesotans remember the last era of big transmission investments. The late 1970s were marked by violent protests over the line from the lignite coal fields of North Dakota to the Twin Cities.

Activists smeared themselves with manure. An anonymous group, calling themselves the “Bolt Weevils,” reportedly shot out nearly 10,000 insulators and toppled 14 towers. A young professor at Carleton College, Paul Wellstone, co-authored a book about it: “Powerline: The First Battle of America’s Energy War.”

Utilities now go through a more rigorous approval process with regulators. CapX2020 has tried to route the lines down existing roads and field lines instead of cutting directly across them. Still, battles continue.

From his office high in the former World Trade Center in downtown St. Paul, Bob Johnson spends his days handling investment funds in commercial real estate. He’s an unlikely power line activist, but he and his wife, Patricia, have backed a costly campaign — they won’t say how much, but estimates are close to six figures — against the CapX project. One leg of CapX would run past their hilltop home along a country road called 220th Street East outside Hampton.

The 240-mile line from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton won’t jeopardize their views or land, the Johnsons say, but they think 220th Street East is a lousy choice because it affects a disproportionate number of people and businesses, including one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples and Scherbenkse, the horse breeder.

They’ve proposed an alternate route about a mile north that would mostly cross farmland. The farmers there don’t want the power line, either.

To bolster his case, Johnson flew in experts to testify at a December hearing; among them was David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in New York. Carpenter testified that there’s a link between exposure to magnetic fields above 4 milligauss and increased risk of cancer, particularly childhood leukemia.

Someone standing 100 feet away from a 345-kilovolt line would be exposed to a calculated average of 3.4 to 12.5 milligauss, depending on the exact spot and whether one or two circuits are operating.

Utilities brought in their own experts, arguing that the health risks from power lines are hypothetical. The average Sonicare toothbrush generates magnetic fields of some 240 milligauss, they argue, while acknowledging people don’t live with a toothbrush in their mouths.

Dropping demand

The Brookings line isn’t the only leg of the CapX under fire. Dropping energy demand has a trio of citizen groups, including a group of south metro landowners called the Citizens Energy Task Force, asking the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to re-examine the need for the line from Hampton to La Crosse, Wis., which would cross the Mississippi through a national wildlife refuge.

When the utilities pitched CapX to regulators in 2005, they projected energy demand in Minnesota and neighboring states would grow about 2.49 percent a year through 2020, or by about 6,300 megawatts total, according to the group’s appeal filed in October with the State Court of Appeals.

Since the recession, demand has been dropping, and CapX utilities have cut individual forecasts. Great River Energy is now planning for a 1.28 percent annual growth rate through 2020. The CapX group as a whole, however, hasn’t revised its official demand forecast.

The Citizens Energy Task Force thinks they should.

“The utilities are asking for a very big, very expensive network that’s more disruptive than it needs to be,” said the group’s attorney, Paula Maccabee.

The utilities argue that electricity demand will inevitably rebound. Both the PUC and an administrative law judge have agreed that new lines are needed, they said.

A hearing on the issue was held at the court of appeals last month. A decision is pending.

A fair price

How much landowners will be compensated remains unclear. Under eminent domain, utilities can lawfully seize and condemn private land for their projects — at a fair price — but they try to settle with landowners first, getting them to sign an easement agreement and take a check.

Most landowners sign such agreements fairly quickly, something Xcel Energy and Great River Energy point to as evidence that they deal fairly with landowners.

Tracking the private offers is difficult. Lawyers who’ve worked with property owners say utilities frequently squeeze landowners, lowballing them on initial offers or not including the impact the power line has on their property value.

“It’s a David and Goliath battle, only it’s David without a rock and a sling,” said Bryan Voight, one of eight homeowners in Dakota County that battled Great River Energy over a new power line a few years ago and won. The utility initially offered him $250 to $500 for running a line across his front yard. The group eventually settled for amounts far higher.

Craig Poorker, a land rights manager with Great River Energy and CapX, said that the utility does not include the impact on property values in easement offers. He called the Voight situation an “anomaly.”

Trying to ensure landowners are treated fairly as CapX looms, Minnesota lawmakers are seeking to tighten eminent domain laws as they apply to utilities. Among other things, they want utilities to pay attorneys fees for landowners who were lowballed. Voight said he paid one-third of his award to his attorney.

In Hampton, Eric and Kristen Johnson say they just want to be treated fairly, too. A decision on the basic route of the Brookings power line is expected by summer. The line could end up 300 to 500 feet away from their house, Poorker said. The Johnsons said the jog away from their house might even be worse, because then the utilities might not have to compensate them at all.

“It’s still too close,” said Kristen Johnson. “We’re talking 150-foot towers that make lots of noise.”

For now, they wait.

“We’re just kind of sitting here in limbo,” said Kristen. “It’s scary.”

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

Not only is the focus so narrow, but NoCapX 2020 and United Citizens Action Network don’t exist… sigh…

And the point of the eminent domain law is misstated:

State lawmakers are working on legislation to hold utilities to a higher standard — the same as governments — when it comes to taking private land for projects.


Trying to ensure landowners are treated fairly as CapX looms, Minnesota lawmakers are seeking to tighten eminent domain laws as they apply to utilities.

Ummmmmm… the point of the legislative changes isn’t “to hold utilities to a higher standard” or to “tighten eminent domain laws as they apply to utilities,” it’s to require utilities to follow the same laws as every other entity with eminent domain, to not receive favored treatment — EXEMPTION — from eminent domain laws.  GRRRRRRRRRR…

And nothing at all about the people in Marshall who fought so hard to get a Citizen Advisory Task Force and were dissed by Minnesota Office of Energy Security:

MOES answers Marshall malfeasance/misfeasance charges


And there’s another one too:

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4/9/10

POWERING UP: Wiring the state for the next generation

Blueprints for thousands of miles of new power lines to carry wind are sparking debate over the nation’s clean energy future.


April 9, 2010 – 5:59 PM

Minnesota, beset by an aging and overused power grid, is losing its edge in the wind industry just as the rest of the country is ready to embrace it.

But if President Obama and some of the country’s largest wind developers have their way, the state’s gusts could someday soon help power homes in Chicago and further east.

Developers are still drawing up blueprints, with multibillion pricetags, that crisscross Minnesota with networks of gigantic transmission lines to ship wind power east. President Obama spurred the planning, making the electric superhighway — the energy equivalent of the country’s interstate highways — a key plank of his clean energy agenda. Recently, governors of 29 states, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, pushed Congress to pass a national renewable energy standard requiring 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources, largely wind, by 2020.

Huge power line plans, however, have sparked sharp debate over who controls the nation’s energy future. Like the paths of the wires themselves, battle lines are still being drawn. Environmentalists are grudgingly embracing some of the green plans despite all the development they entail, citing the urgency of shifting from dirty coal-fired electricity. Minnesota companies that stand to benefit are pushing for the potentially large export crop. But a national group of utilities, many from the East, came out this month saying they don’t want Midwest wind, preferring to encourage local development.

Some Minnesotans agree. The state should meet its own renewable energy goals — 25 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025 — not by exporting wind but harvesting it for its own use with smaller lines, they argue.

Ratepayers inevitably will get socked with bills lasting decades for building new transmission lines, but no one can agree on how to fairly spread out the costs.

Despite sky-scraping pricetags on the backs of taxpayers and ratepayers, debates over the large-scale transmission buildouts around the country remain largely invisible to the general public, said Bruce Edelston, who heads the newly formed Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy in Washington, D.C.

“It’s probably the biggest issue out there that the average person on the street has no idea of,” Edelston said.

To see the state’s power stalemate firsthand, look no further than the St. Paul control room that manages the electric grid. Staring at a bank of computers beneath a 12-foot-high screen of blinking lights, a dispatcher will see that the lines are getting jammed and order a wind farm operator to turn off turbines.

Last year dispatchers ordered farms in Minnesota and nearby states to “dump wind” 6,000 times, according to the Midwest Independent System Operator (Midwest ISO), which runs the million-square-mile electrical grid over 13 states, including Minnesota, plus the province of Manitoba.

The calls come when it’s windiest. There just aren’t enough power lines, said Clair Moeller, the group’s vice president of transmission management.

And it has ambitious wind developers up in arms.

“We’re literally feathering our blades … while others continue to generate with coal,” says Don Furman, an executive at Iberdrola Renewables Inc., the U.S. arm of the Spanish wind giant that owns several farms in Minnesota. “Where we are right now is pretty contrary to where the administration and most of the public wants to be going.”

Minnesota has about 150 wind projects waiting in line at the Midwest ISO to plug into the grid. Some have waited since 2005.

Meanwhile the state’s status as a wind energy leader is languishing. As recently as 2007, Minnesota was the country’s third-largest wind producer. By last year it had fallen to fifth. Last year 20 states each added more than 100 megawatts of new wind power. Minnesota added just 56. In each of the two previous years, the state had added more than 400 megawatts of new power.

Meanwhile, Minnesota imports nearly a quarter of its electricity, putting it near the top in the country.

There are so many stalled wind projects in Minnesota that if they were all hooked up, the state could probably triple its renewable energy goal of 25 percent. The state appears to be on track to hit the 2010 target of 15 percent for Xcel Energy and 7 percent for all other electric utilities.

Renewable Energy Systems is waiting to hook up three projects, said Joe DeVito, who works in the Colorado company’s Minneapolis office.

“It’s a been a slow and painful process,” DeVito said. “I just don’t think we’re going to take any more positions in this region because of the difficulty of the queue.”

DeVito said his company will likely build in Oregon or Colorado instead.

The state’s energy regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, and its top utilities argue that Minnesota has simply maxed out the spiderweb of power lines hanging over the state. It hasn’t expanded its grid significantly in nearly 30 years.

At peak times, lines jam around St. Cloud, Alexandria, Rochester and La Crosse, Wis., raising the threat of outages and leaving the system vulnerable to a bad storm.

“The existing system capacity is essentially used up,” said Priti Patel, director of regional transmission development at Minneapolis-based Excel Energy, and a co-director of CapX2020, the state’s major power line expansion that’s been years in the planning.

The first phase of CapX2020, expected to break ground later this year, would add about 700 miles of high-voltage lines across Minnesota and part of Wisconsin at a cost of about $1.7 billion. The second phase is undetermined. Among other things, utility officials wait to see whether there’s an export market.

Big plans, big costs

Last October at a solar facility in Florida, Obama stumped for a clean energy superhighway in which “a wind farm in rural South Dakota can power homes in Chicago.”

Three plans do just that. At the moment, the $12 billion Green Power Express is furthest along. It would be a 3,000-mile network of 765-kilovolt lines across the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. It’s backed by ITC Holdings Corp., a publicly traded transmission company in Novi, Mich. Federal regulators boosted the project last year when they granted it a guaranteed 12.38 percent return on investment.

To DeVito, even that project isn’t big enough. “The need is actually larger if we want to really tap renewable energy.”

American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio, and MidAmerican Energy Holdings in Des Moines, Iowa, are pushing another electric superhighway that would cross Minnesota. A study is due out in April.

And the Midwest ISO itself just proposed several different configurations of high-voltage lines stretching from the Dakotas to Illinois to meet mandates for renewable energy. The pricetag: between $12 billion and $22 billion.

Any of the proposed lines crossing Minnesota would be subject to approval by state regulators.

But who pays? The Midwest ISO recently announced it’s devised a method for sharing transmission costs between power generators hooking up to new lines and ratepayers throughout its far-flung grid based on a formula for their power use. It’s still hammering out details.

“We’re watching it like a hawk,” said Peter Fox-Penner, principal at the Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Spreading the cost is “without any question, the biggest bottleneck in this acceleration.”

Go it alone

Not everyone is sold on electric superhighways. The governors of several Northeast states and a growing number of utilities are pushing back on plans to import cheap Midwest wind power, concerned it will squelch local development.

“It skews the market toward the remote resources,” said Edelston, who heads the utility opposition.

Others argue the entire interstate transmission concept is wrong. David Morris, a vice president at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, says Minnesotans “may be forced to pay billions to build almost 2,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that will benefit Minnesota little, if at all,” he said.

His group thinks Minnesota’s energy future should focus not on big wires to haul power long distances, but on small ones supporting grass-roots projects. He points to countries such as Denmark and Germany where small renewable energy projects have taken a significant bite out of overall use. Wind generates about 20 percent of Denmark’s electricity, the bulk of it owned by farmers and cooperatives.

Green town

Some 20 stories high, the sleek white machine on the edge of Mountain Lake towers over a gas station and the town’s golf course.

The single turbine, built about three years ago, generates about 16 percent of the electricity used by this town of about 2,000 people in southwestern Minnesota.

Besides trying to be green, one goal was to control swings in electricity prices — avoiding so-called spot market purchases, said City Administrator Wendy Meyer. Its wind power has a cost slightly less than the average of the town’s total electricity mix, which includes electricity from Nebraska. But wind prices won’t change, while electricity from other sources will inevitably increase.

“It’s a huge futures contract,” said wind developer Dan Juhl, who helped the town build it at a cost of $2 million.

Meyer said her town won’t ever become completely energy self-sufficient. Wind is famously intermittent. “You can’t put up 100 percent wind turbines,” she said. “You still need something.”

Indeed, Beth Goodpaster, a staff attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said to wean the nation from coal requires approaches from all angles, one reason her group offered reluctant support for CapX2020. “We think we do need to do it all.”

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

The Gall of Kaul

Filed under:PUC Docket — posted by admin on April 30, 2009 @ 3:33 pm


Will Kaul, VP of Transmission at GRE, let loose in response to David Morris’ opinion piece a few days ago.  What a doozy!  How dare he!  Talk about out of touch with reality!  Maybe he’d better ask a few of the thousands who showed up and commented on this insane series of transmission projects across Minnesota known as CapX 2020.

You can call him and tell him what you think.   Will Kaul @ GRE (763) 241-2380!


Will Kaul: Citizens have plenty of input on utilities

The facts on three new power lines came out in dozens of public events.


Last update: April 30, 2009 – 11:05 AM

The above quote, “to be a formal intervener, an individual or group simply had to sign up,” is false, and the utmost in arrogance. Kaul … read more sure wasn’t at the CapX proceeding that I was at, and it looks like he hasn’t read the transcript. If he had, he’d know that a couple weeks into the hearing, the judge issued an Order to Show Cause to two intervenors, the Prairie Island Indian Community and United Citizens Action Network to explain why they shouldn’t be booted out! Prairie Island Indian Community said they’d withdraw and maybe intervene in the siting docket. U-CAN, landowners in the route corridor, succinctly told the judge they had every right to be Intervenors, there were no requirements for level of participation, and btw, they were in the middle of condemnation proceedings for the MinnCan pipeline (another of her dockets and recommendations!) and didn’t have resources to do much in CapX. The judge then graciously allowed them to remain in the proceeding. Electric use is down, down, hence NoCapX 2020’s Motion to Reopen (November and last month), and soon, Motion for Reconsideration and then appeal. The forecasts are old, 2004-2005, and Xcel admits in its SEC filings that 2007 and 2008 saw declining beaks, SIGNIFICANTLY declining peaks, over 11% in just two years rather than their 2.49% increase, 1.5% increase, or whatever other number was dreamed up for the occasion. Those two years alone push any claimed need for this project way out there in time. And even if there was the “need” that they claim, the physical conductor is way over-spec’d, many many times what’s necessary for even the most generous forecast, and then they have the nerve to upsize it, doubling it, with zero justification! “The PUC upheld the recommendation of the judge…” Of course, they’re supporting MISO’s economic dispatch, rather than ratepayer interests, rather than the public interest. It’s time for a shake-up, not the usual shake-down. Yes, the many pages of transcripts, testimony, exhibits reflect the facts, but the ALJ recommendation and PUC decision do not reflect those facts or the purpose and reality of CapX 2020. From the utility squeals, it’s clear David Morris hit a nerve by being right on target.

An April 24 opinion piece by David Morris (“If it’s citizens vs. utilities, utilities win”) criticized the process state regulators use to review and approve new transmission lines and questioned whether Minnesotans had an opportunity to participate in the recent proceedings concerning three 345-kilovolt lines proposed by CapX2020, a group of 11 utilities.

The piece also made a rather bizarre comparison between sports stadiums and electric transmission lines. Electricity is an essential service that every Minnesotan depends on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The state regulatory process encourages public participation. It requires an independent review to ensure that utilities’ plans undergo a thorough and comprehensive vetting.

In the CapX2020 case:

•The Minnesota Department of Commerce held 10 public meetings, and an administrative law judge held 19 public hearings. Any interested citizen could attend and speak.

•To be a formal intervener, an individual or group simply had to sign up.

•The utilities hosted more than 100 public meetings and made more than 150 public presentations about the projects.

Following that extensive review, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously that the three lines are needed. The decision upheld the recommendation of an administrative law judge, who reviewed thousands of pages of testimony and public comments and conducted seven weeks of evidentiary hearings and three weeks of public hearings.

Among the points the utilities made:

•Since the last major transmission system upgrade in Minnesota 30 years ago, much has changed. Electricity consumption has doubled, as has the number of electricity customers. Communities such as St. Cloud, Alexandria, Rochester and the Twin Cities have experienced significant growth and are facing serious electricity reliability issues.

•Despite today’s economic slowdown, electricity use is projected to continue growing, particularly peak electricity use.

•The transmission system must be designed to withstand the loss of one line by instantaneously transferring power to other lines.

•Minnesota has the most aggressive renewable energy standard in the country, requiring that 25 percent of electricity be from renewable sources by 2025. The Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota is one of the country’s greatest wind resources. Transmission lines are required to move that energy to customers.

The CapX2020 transmission lines aim to ensure that Minnesota communities continue to enjoy reliable electricity service and that the state’s renewable-energy mandate is met. The regulatory process aims to ensure that citizens have a say in determining whether the lines are needed and where they should be routed.

Will Kaul is vice president of transmission for Great River Energy and is chairman of the CapX2020 organization.