Monday’s approval by the Midwest electric grid operator of a massive plan to build more that 2,000 miles of long-range transmission lines was The largest portfolio of regional transmission lines ever proposed in the U.S.
According to the Clean Grid Alliance, the move will provide power for 12 million homes and create hundreds of thousands jobs in the region. Climate advocates and proponents of the investment claim it will improve grid reliability by reducing congestion. It also allows for more than 50 gigawatts of renewable energy to be added to make the sector more sustainable. This is a step towards decarbonizing the energy sector.
Putting up the grid
After almost two years of research and public engagement, Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s board of directors approved $10.3 billion for 18 high voltage transmission lines in the upper Midwest. These lines are expected to be online in 2028 or 2030. This portfolio is the first phase in MISO’s Long-Range Transmission Planning process.
According to the Clean Grid Alliance, this would mean three new transmission lines for Minnesota. They could power 3.2 millions homes and create over 56,000 jobs. One of these lines runs 150 miles from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota to Benton County, central Minnesota. It is being constructed by Minnesota Power (two of the 10 utilities that make Grid North Partners).
span style=”font weight: 400 The Upper Midwest is the leader in renewable energy. As our system moves away from fossil fuel plants and towards renewable energy, we will need new transmission infrastructure to ensure reliability and resilience, deliver clean energy and keep our customers’ bills affordable,” Grid North Partners, which also includes Xcel Energy, stated in a joint statement. We are ready to develop these projects .”
“Right currently in Minnesota, there are areas where electricity generation by wind is consistently performing. But, because our transmission lines don’t have the capacity they need, we can’t get all that energy to where we most need it,” Mike Schowalter (a senior policy associate at Fresh Energy), said in a statement.
Transmission lines enable electricity to flow from the place it is generated to the point it is used. According to Meghan Hassett (Midwest clean energy advocate, Union of Concerned Scientists), demand can exceed supply in heat waves because more people use appliances like air conditioners.
She said that electricity from low-cost renewable energy sources like solar and wind can’t reach more rural areas of the state because of a lack of infrastructure. This can lead to increased energy costs and strain on the grid.
The new lines will integrate 53 gigawatts (or more) of power from renewable sources. This would fill the gap left by electricity from fossil fuel-burning stations as more utilities shift away from coal-burning plants – which is the largest stationary source for greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
MISO’s move is just one of many efforts made by utilities, power companies and government agencies to shift towards renewable energy and stop climate change from being caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Xcel Energy pledged to provide 100% carbon-free energy to customers by 2050. It also plans to close its coal-fired power plants by 2030. Minnesota Power, which provides half of its power from renewable sources, has also committed to being carbon-free by 2050, and to eliminate coal by 2035.
Gov. Tim Walz signed a letter last year with the governors in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to support the MISO project. He also proposed a clean-energy standard with a faster timeline. This would require all electric utilities be carbon-free by 2040.
However, significant climate and energy investments did not materialize in the Minnesota Legislature’s divided session. The energy budget, which included funds for renewable energy infrastructure, was approved by lawmakers. It totaled more than $80 millions. However, disagreements over larger budget items led to the budget not reaching the final stage.
Minnesota is not on track to meet its carbon emission reductions goals, 30% by 2025 and 88% by 2050. Hassett stated that these goals are outdated according to current climate science standards. The DFL-controlled House supports 100% carbon-free energy. However, the impasse between climate legislation chambers has been the greatest obstacle to Minnesota’s transition towards renewable energy.
She stated that legislators are required to adopt policies to encourage the growth of renewable energy. We need Minnesota lawmakers and policymakers to keep pushing MISO to do more long-range transmission planning faster to ensure that the grid is aligned with the decarbonized power systems that Minnesotans require to live healthier lives and lower their energy bills span>