Answer Man: When power usage is generally flat, why build a power line?

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Answer Man: When power usage is generally flat, why build a power line?

September 24, 2015

Dear Answer Man, you've been just about the only consistent source of local information on the CapX2020 power line. Can you remind me, why was this power line needed in the first place? Has power consumption been going up so much that a $2 billion power line was needed?

That's a very good question, and tough to answer because the information is always a little dated, the project spans a huge area and involves many power utilities with different needs, and infrastructure of this kind is built in anticipation of future demand. The CapX people would tell you that it's the largest power transmission system built in the state in 35 to 40 years, and that it was needed because the demand for electricity in the region has grown about 2 percent a year for the past decade.

It's about 800 miles long and will cost more than $2 billion when the final checks are written.

When I asked Tim Carlsgaard, communications and public affairs manager for Xcel Energy, to recap the rationale for CapX2020, he called this "the Carol Overland question," a reference to the activist attorney from Red Wing who was a leader in trying to stop the project.

I'm sure Carol will enjoy seeing her name attached to this question.

"Each CapX2020 utility will have a different answer to this question," Carlsgaard said by email. "Concerning demand, you need to look at the Resource Plans that each utility must file with the respective public utilities commissions. Nevertheless, there are many factors as to why you build transmission, including meeting peak demand, regional reliability and providing capacity to support renewable energy development.

He also said the CapX lines "are helping the individual utility partners meet the Minnesota renewable energy mandate of 25 percent by 2025 (30 percent by 2020 for Xcel). As you know, there are not a lot of wind turbines within 20 miles of Rochester. I'm sure you are aware of the wind developers who have attempted to build wind farms in the vicinity of the Rochester metro area and were denied. ... most of the wind farms in the Upper Midwest are located in far western and southern Minnesota and eastern Dakotas."

Actually, I'm not aware of a gold rush in the immediate Rochester metro area for wind farms, though there are plenty in Dodge and Mower counties. But in any case, renewable energy is one reason the lines were needed.

Regarding power usage, project opponents have said from the beginning that electricity use has been flat for several years and will actually decline in the near term, thanks to conservation measures and greater efficiency. According to a filing last year by Xcel, which is a lead partner in the project, the utility said its "current forecast indicates a slight downward correction, projecting average growth over the 2017-2022 period to be less than 0.60 percent compared to the September 2013 update, which indicated average growth of 0.90 percent.

"This lower expected growth rate in customer demand represents a 22 MW reduction in the forecasted median Peak Demand in 2017, growing to a 190 MW reduction by 2021, and a 388 MW reduction in 2024."

The U.S. Department of Energy says that residential energy consumption in Minnesota was more or less flat from 2004 to 2011, which is the most current report I could find on that score.

SOURCE:  Rochester Post Bulleting

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