Opening Up Space on MN's Clean-Energy 'Highway'
Friday, October 14, 2022
The Midwest electric grid held up against a series of heat waves this past summer. But industry voices say as states such as Minnesota add more renewable energy, maintaining reliability and boosting transmission space is key.
In the past decade, 81% of new electricity-generation capacity in Minnesota has come from sources such as wind and solar. JoAnn Thompson, vice president for asset management at Otter Tail Power, said it's encouraging to see this shift, with analysts noting renewables are proving to be more cost-effective. However, she said all this energy needs a place to go.
"These transmission lines have a capacity limit," she said, "so they can only take so much generation being flowed over these lines."
She said finding more space would help her utility reach its clean-energy goals and deliver affordable power to customers.
The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) recently reported another record application period for renewable projects. MISO also just approved 18 new long-range transmission projects across the upper Midwest, but it will take several years for them to be operational.
Thompson said they're appealing to regulators to do all they can to see these upcoming projects meet all the necessary requirements to avoid even longer timelines, "and that collaboration and coordination is going to be very critical to ensure that we're able to timely develop and construct the necessary transmission."
Mike Schowalter, senior policy associate for clean electricity with the group Fresh Energy, said having a clogged transmission system means extra infrastructure work to accommodate certain projects, making them a little more costly in the short term. Ideally, he said, the region needs a grid that isn't specifically designed for power from fossil fuels.
"It's shifting to where it's sunnier or where it's windier," he said, "and we need to rebuild that grid in order to actually take advantage of those resources."
He said doing so would result in a more even distribution of renewable energy, allowing all parts of Minnesota and beyond to access these sources.
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