Transmission Upgrades Open Midwest to Lots of Cheap Wind

Minnesota is spending $1 billion to upgrade its transmission system this year as part of a $2.2 billion overhaul, which will enable a lot of wind power to connect to the grid.

The 800-mile project has been on-going for nine years and will finally be finished in 2015. Regional utilities will have spent over $5.5 billion by then on grid upgrades.

"There are a number of wind farms waiting for transmission lines in southwestern Minnesota and surrounding states," Beth Soholt, executive director of trade group Wind on the Wires Minnesota, told StarTribune. "Transmission facilitates keeping the lights on … and cost-effective energy because it allows energy to flow back and forth in a more robust wholesale market. It creates more energy choices and lets Minnesota and the other states meet their multiyear renewable energy standards."

Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, which generate much of the wind energy in the US, have been choked off from selling that electricity because of inadequate transmission capacity.

Wind supplies 12% of the power generated in the 11-state Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) network, and Minnesota gets about 15% of its energy from wind.

"When this is done, you’ll have a lot more wind-generated transmission from South Dakota and North Dakota all the way to La Crosse, Wisconsin," engineer Mike Gregerson told the newspaper. "No more notifications from MISO that the grid is too full and they can’t use your energy.”

He also expects the cost of energy to drop because MISO will be able to move around the cheapest energy better. "And in most cases, that’s wind because there’s no fuel costs," says Gregerson.

Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio all have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require utilities to source 25% of energy from clean sources by 2025. Nearby states’ RPS are around 15%.

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