Ultimately, the members of the Public Utilities Commission didn't question the need for the three 345 kilovolt power lines reaching across central and southern Minnesota for 600 miles.
Utilities like Great River Energy had argued the state's infrastructure was unreliable. They also said new sources of power couldn't hook up to the existing system. Places like Rochester and the St. Cloud simply needed more transmission lines. They also argued that these new lines could bring renewable energy, like wind, to population centers.
Commissioner Dennis O'Brien wanted to make sure utilities kept their word on that last point.
"The state legislature has asked us to give priority for wind development. I think we have an obligation to do that," O'Brien said.
O'Brien proposed that the power sent along the line from Brookings, S.D. to the Twin Cities must be generated from renewable sources. No other line has that requirement. The commission agreed by a three to two vote.
"I think these are reasonable restrictions on one of the lines," Obrien said. "I was simply trying to find compromise and balance on a very controversial project."
The wind energy requirement on the single power line was less than what environment groups had sought.
The group, Wind on the Wires, had asked that the commission require renewables on all of the lines.
"I think the public testimony that was in front of the commission was very powerful to help the commission really understand how serious people are about wanting renewable energy to flow over these renewable transmission lines," said the group's president, Beth Soholt.
The Public Utilities Commission has required the utilities to sign power purchase agreements for renewables before they can build the line.
CapX will meet the renewable requirements, but he says they aren't easy to reach, according to Will Kaul, vice president at Great River Energy, one of the utilities in the CapX consortium.
"Basically by saying all the wind has to go on this line, it basically picks winners and losers in the wind developers marketplace, it reduces competition which our people who are buying wind energy would like to see in the renewable market. So we believe it will add cost to consumers," Kaul said.
But lots of wind companies are setting up shop right now, so there could be plenty of competition, said commission chair David Boyd. However, Boyd voted against requiring the renewables. The PUC should not be setting power generation requirements, he said.
"I think those conditions will ultimately work out well for everyone. I'm not absolutely sure that there will be additional cost. I can't know that. That's part of the crystal ball part of this job," Boyd said.
CapX Utilities will now submit routing applications. The Brookings line and part of the Fargo Line have already been submitted. Opponents of the project say they may contest the commission's ruling in the court of appeals.
CapX lines will cost consumers nearly $2 billion. Pending a court fight, the first lines will be operational by 2011.