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Utilities say CapX2020 transmission project prompting wind energy growth

Finished in late September after more than a decade of planning and construction, the 800-mile-long CapX2020 transmission project has prompted more than 3,600 megawatts of clean energy project proposals, according to Xcel Energy.

While not all the proposals are likely to be approved by regulators, the flood of applications represents the tangible impact of CapX2020 in moving electrons from windier parts of the Midwest to dense population centers to the east.

“There’s a high preponderance of generators in the interconnection queues which are wind developers, with some solar, too,” said Teresa Mogensen, senior vice president for transmission at Xcel Energy, the utility which, along with Great River Energy, led the development.

A recently completed 70-mile stretch of CapX in South Dakota has resulted in proposals for nine wind projects and one natural gas plant together totaling more than 2,000 MW. One of those is the largest wind project in South Dakota’s history, Xcel Energy’s 600 MW Crown Ridge. Read more

Minnesota adds solar electrical generating capacity

ST. PAUL, Minn. ( -- Minnesota solar capacity increased by 114 megawatts over the past four months (July-October), giving Minnesota 612 MW of total solar capacity.

That's according to preliminary figures compiled by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

In the first 10 months of 2017, Minnesota solar capacity increased by 366 MW, more than doubling the total capacity at the end of 2016, which was 246 MW. Read more

Xcel CEO predicts rosy future as energy moves away from coal

By the year 2020, Xcel Energy's power grid will use 35 percent renewable sources, and less than a quarter of energy will come from coal.

It will have slashed carbon emissions by nearly half, and customers won't see much of a change in their bills — if not a lower bill.

That's according to the utility's CEO Ben Fowke, who spoke with MPR News host Tom Weber on Friday.

But how will Minnesota's largest utility get to this point?

Increased use of renewable energy, and the highly controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fowke said fracking "truly has been a game-changer" for Xcel. Fracking involves shooting highly pressurized liquid into rock beneath the earth's surface, cracking the rock and releasing natural gas. Read more

Loggers' group sues to stop shutdown of biomass power plant

WALKER, Minn. — The Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota have sued to block closure of a biomass power plant in Benson.

The plant burns wood chips and turkey litter. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cass County, says a shutdown would hurt the environment and cost jobs.

The Legislature authorized Xcel Energy to cancel its power purchase agreements with biomass plants in Benson, Virginia and Hibbing. Xcel is now asking the Public Utilities Commission for final approval, saying it would save consumers money.

The lawsuit asks the court to order a study of the environmental impacts of closing the Benson plant, which it calls an important market for waste wood.

Xcel declined comment on the lawsuit but said Friday it wants to replace expensive energy from those plants with something more affordable. Read more

Solar-Powered Learning: UMD to purchase solar energy from Minnesota Power

UMD is showing support of solar energy development and sustainability in northern Minnesota with a 100 kilowatt block purchase at the new Minnesota Power community solar garden in Wrenshall. (A community solar garden is a solar array divided into blocks that customers subscribe to in order to meet part or all of their energy needs.)

Chancellor Lendley (Lynn) Black will make the announcement at Minnesota Power’s event celebrating the near completion of its one megawatt solar array at 424 County Road in Wrenshall on Thursday, November 2. Remarks are scheduled from 10 - 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by a walking tour of the area.

“By pursuing the Community Solar Garden contract, UMD is supporting solar in northern Minnesota,” says Chancellor Black. “This is something that our students value and want our campus to pursue as we make progress towards our sustainability goals.”

Black describes the purchase as a low-risk investment that pays back in electricity savings over time. Read more

ALLETE Clean Energy Earns Yellow Ribbon Designation

DULUTH, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- As Veterans Day approaches, ALLETE Clean Energy, an ALLETE Inc. (NYSE: ALE) company, is proud to announce it has earned a Yellow Ribbon designation from the state of Minnesota.

Overseen by the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs, the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program supports service members, veterans and their families by connecting them with career counseling, professional development and employment resources. The Yellow Ribbon program is a sister program to Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense program established to promote cooperation between service members and their civilian employees.

To earn a Yellow Ribbon designation from the Department of Military Affairs, companies must build relationships with local military leaders, identify which employees have military connections and commit to hiring, supporting and retaining veterans. The designation recognizes companies that honor military-connected employees and their families, and streamline their access to resources.

"Becoming the first clean energy independent power producer and developer to be recognized as a Yellow Ribbon company illustrates ALLETE Clean Energy's commitment to our military-connected employees, their families and the communities in which we operate," said ALLETE Clean Energy President Al Rudeck. "Military employees exemplify hard work, dedication and a commitment to excellence that we all benefit from. I thank all of our employees for their dedication to fulfilling their dual role of military and civilian missions." Read more

PUC rules that co-ops must change way they calculate solar fees

State utility regulators Thursday concluded that Minnesota electricity co-ops’ controversial solar energy fees are not calculated in compliance with the law.

A 2015 Minnesota law allowed co-ops to start charging fees so they could cover fixed costs from customers who produce their own power. Solar industry advocates claimed that given the fees’ size, the co-ops were trying to recover lost revenue, not just cover fixed costs and that the high charges are a disincentive for residents to install solar.

In June 2016, after receiving complaints from co-op customers, the PUC initiated a fee review, an unusual move.

On a 5-0 vote Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ruled that the co-ops, which serve much of rural Minnesota, should use so-called “cost-of-service” studies instead of using revenue calculations in computing fees. Co-ops said revenue approximates the cost of services for them. Read more

Minnesota Power Unveils Community Solar Garden Program

A nearly completed 9-acre community solar garden now sits in Wrenshall. Minnesota Power unveiled the garden tot he public Thursday.

The garden will be part of their pilot program and effort to grow renewable energy use.

"It's an option for customers that are not able to do solar on their own home or business roof top. It's designed to deliver that solar energy to homeowners and business right here," said Fred Fredrickson, Vice President of Marketing for Minnesota Power. Read more

Mankato to Xcel: Go west with proposed power line

MANKATO — Three months ago, North Mankato city officials told Xcel Energy they'd prefer to not have a new transmission line running through their backyard.

Now, Mankato has suggested that the high-voltage line doesn't really work on its side of the Minnesota River.

Xcel's predicament is the transmission line has to go one way or the other.

"What they're trying to do is find easement corridors through an urban area," Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said of the power company's challenge.

Xcel announced earlier this year it is imperative to build a 345-kilovolt transmission line between its Wilmarth substation on Mankato's north side to a new substation being constructed near Huntley about 40 miles south of Mankato. Congestion on the transmission grid is keeping clean low-cost energy produced by wind farms from reaching customers, according to the utility, and the new line would fix the problem. Read more

Will going green leave some taxpayers in the red?

(KMSP) - The landscape is changing on the outskirts of the Twin Cities metro area.

Vast stretches of farmland are planted with semiconductors instead of crops--row upon row of steel, glass and plastic, here to stay for at least the next quarter century.
"We're on a real growth trajectory right now for solar development," said Dan Thiede, a green energy expert from the University of Minnesota.
But private developers are rushing to lock in land leases to install massive solar arrays that turn sunbeams into electricity.

The community solar gardens range in size from six acres to as many as forty, giving consumers an opportunity to go green without the expense or hassle of having to install solar panels on their own property.

"They allow for people to subscribe to a project and actually see a bill credit on their utility bill," said Thiede.

Subscribing to a solar garden can, over time, save customers hundreds--even thousands--of dollars on electricity.

The sweet spot for these community solar gardens is along Xcel Energy's power grid. The utility claims to have the largest solar garden program in the country, producing enough power to supply about 14,000 homes.

Part of what's driving this growth is a state requirement for Xcel to sell electricity made from renewable resources, leading private solar energy developers who are eager to get a piece of the action to stake out land around the metro for projects that can easily connect to Xcel's distribution system. Read more