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.