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US Midwest utilities to study grid upgrades for more clean energy

They see the CapX2050 Transmission Vision initiative as 'critical' to developing a plan for network improvements to achieve ambitious 2050 regional carbon reduction goals

Ten electric utilities in the blustery US Upper Midwest will launch a study to identify potential grid network improvements and infrastructure upgrades that may be necessary to achieve ambitious carbon reduction goals by 2050 in the region.

According to the utilities, the CapX2050 Transmission Vision Study is "critical" to the eventual development of a comprehensive plan that will ensure continued reliable delivery of low-price electricity in a cost-effective manner as the system adds more carbon-free energy.

They believe an emphasis on “holistic” long-term planning will ensure a successful transition toward cleaner energy including distributed generation and new storage technologies.

Targeted for January 2020 completion, the study will provide valuable data for sharing with policymakers, regulators and the public while providing opportunity for stakeholder input, they added.

Almost every utility in Iowa, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, is moving to add substantially more renewable energy – mainly wind – to their systems for economic and environmental reasons, but also in response to pressure from customers and shareholders.

Xcel Energy, for example, has set a 2050 target to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity in its multi-state service territory.

Policymakers are also promoting wind and other renewables for the economic development and job creation benefits. They understand that companies increasingly want access to lower-carbon energy alternatives and a robust delivery system as a prerequisite for new investment.

Transmission: US renewables' biggest problem

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Those states have been among the fastest growing wind power development plays in the US in the last several years.

A larger, more resilient and stronger network of 230kV and above transmission lines would also enable those states to develop and export more wind energy within the grid managed by the MidContinent Independent System Operator (MISO) – and ideally east to the neighbouring PJM Interconnection system with its higher electric baseload.

The 10 utilities formed a joint initiative earlier this decade called CapX2020 that completed an 800-mile (1,287km), nearly $2bn wind-driven grid expansion in the Upper Midwest. The projects included four 345-kV transmission lines and a 230-kV line.

CapX2020 is seen as a potential example for utilities in other areas of the country struggling to get transmission built that would bring more wind and solar energy on to their systems.

The utilities are Central Municipal Power Agency/Services, Dairyland Power Cooperative, Great River Energy, Minnesota Power, Missouri River Energy Services, Otter Tail Power Company, Rochester Public Utilities, Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, WPPI Energy and Xcel Energy.

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