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Study pitches Midwest power line plans

Workers check power lines in Mesa, Ariz., recently. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Workers check power lines in Mesa, Ariz., recently. Future power line needs are being studied for the Midwest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Bob Geiger
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — A group of utilities has finished a study of future power line needs across an 11-state region and has sent two versions of a multibillion-dollar transmission makeover to regional transmission operators.

The study, called the Strategic Midwest Area Renewable Transmission, or SMARTransmission, includes thumbnail sketches of a 20-year project that would rebuild the region’s transmission infrastructure systems by 2029.

Depending on which version is picked, the 7,600-mile to 8,600-mile system of high voltage and extra-high voltage lines would help wire up to 56.8 gigawatts of power onto the grid at a cost of $20 billion to $25 billion.

Houston-based Quanta Technology LLC was hired by Electric Transmission America, a group of seven large utilities including Xcel Energy, American Electric Power and MidAmerican Energy Co. that paid for Quanta’s two-phase study.

The first phase evaluated eight transmission system designs to integrate the region’s rich wind-energy resources into the grid, with the just-completed second phase presenting two similarly priced alternatives for the huge project.

Ian Benson, director of transmission, business and asset management for Minneapolis-based Xcel, said Quanta’s second-phase study takes a look at building an energy transmission infrastructure and looks at the offramps.

Benson and Teresa Mogensen, Xcel’s vice president of transmission, have been updated by Quanta as models of electric-transmission systems to funnel wind energy from remote wind farms to large urban markets were developed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Quanta picked transmission models with similar footprints, with the main difference being between the lower-cost model shipping power over virtually all 765-kilovolt extra-high voltage lines, and a hybrid model in which almost half the transmission lines carry 345 kilovolts of power.

Using the 345-kilovolt lines boosted the multistate project costs by $3 billion, according to Benson. That’s because the 765-kilovolt towers take up less room than those required for the 345-kilovolt equipment, he said.

Both systems extend into central North Dakota, a state rich in coal and oil reserves that also is rated No. 1 in potential wind energy generation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

In South Dakota, transmission line spokes reach the central portion of the state before extending south into Nebraska or east toward Minnesota, which, along with Iowa, could be the site of five or six extra-high voltage substations, according to the alternatives presented by Quanta.

The study assumes a federal Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard of 20 percent, lower than the 25 percent energy that must be generated from renewable sources under Minnesota law. The exception to that is Xcel, which, as the state’s largest utility, must generate 30 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

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