High-voltage power lines could criss-cross Minnesota

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ITC Holdings Corp. wants to build a 765 kilovolt power line that runs through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

The lines would be strung along wind corridors, and they'd be huge. Thick electric lines would form a tightrope 150 to 300 feet in the air.

Map: Potential power lines
ITC Holdings and the CapX 2020 consortium are both hoping to build large transmission lines across Minnesota. Currently, CapX 2020 plans to build a 345 kV power line while ITC is planning a much larger 765 kV line.
MPR Graphic/Than Tibbetts

The lines would likely run through Jeremy Chipps's backyard in La Crescent, Minn. His back porch overlooks the edge of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge.

"These beautiful bluffs, there are little valleys back there. We hike back there," Chipps said. "We see eagles. We see sandhill cranes. There is a family of sandhill cranes that comes back every year. This year they had babies."

Chipps is a member of the Citizens Energy Task Force. The group said power lines that big would interfere with bird migration, hurt tourism and damage the ecosystem.

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ITC said it will work to avoid environmentally sensitive areas, but Chipps said environmental questions aren't the only ones his group has.

"In the enormous scale of that, who is going to pay for it? And where really is the power coming from?" Chipps said. "Is it really all going to be all wind? When it is coming from the Dakotas -- what do we have in the Dakotas, is it all wind? No. There's an enormous amount of coal."

Jeremy Chipps
Jeremy Chipps says the 765 kV power line that ITC Holdings Group wants to run through the region is unnecessary, expensive and environmentally unsound. The line would likely run through or near his backyard.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

ITC spokesman Tom Petersen said any power source could use the 765 kV lines.

"Our goal as an independent transmission company is to provide that interstate highway, so that whoever wants to connect to the system is able to do so," Petersen said.

ITC plans to sell the use of its transmission lines to utility companies. If a utility company wants to buy power from a coal or nuclear plant, it can.

But Petersen said that roughly 10 lines are proposed along wind hot spots. That fits with President Obama's renewable energy goals. ITC has dubbed its system the Green Power Express.

"What we're proposing is a system that facilitates where we're seeing the biggest growth in electric generation, which is wind in our area," Petersen said.

Jeremy Chipps's home
Jeremy Chipps's home overlooks a wetland in La Crescent. Currently, CapX 2020 plans to build a 345 kV power line through the region. The 765 kV line could be in addition to that.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

ITC expects to be able to move 12,000 megawatts of wind power along its lines. That's enough to power the city of Rochester for about three days.

One Minnesota wind developer who has signed onto the project told MPR he believes the region can produce much more wind power than that. The project is expected to cost $12 billion.

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said she doesn't know much about ITC's plans, but she does support the power line concept. She said most of the East Coast doesn't have the wind power Minnesota does.

"We're sitting on the Saudi Arabia of wind ... we need to be able to transmit it to the rest of the country," Klobuchar said. "So these transmission lines are going to be a critical piece of the new energy economy."

Minnesota may not have much of a say about how these lines get built. Federal energy regulators and members of Congress are pushing to streamline the approval process for transmission lines that would carry renewable energy.

Some of these 765 kV lines will run along the same corridors that the CapX 2020 project wants to use for its slightly smaller lines.

CapX is a consortium of Minnesota utility companies that wants to upgrade and expand power lines in areas like Rochester and Minneapolis. Renewable energy isn't part of the plan.

These plans are not mutually exclusive. If both projects are approved, Minnesota could see a spider's web of new power lines across the state.

Both projects would require lots of additional, smaller power lines to deliver. More lines will need more land. CapX already intends to cut through the wetlands that Jeremy Chipps sees from his back porch.

Chipps said the CapX project is unnecessary and unsustainable. And he compares its developers to door-to-door vacuum salesmen. The developer of the 765 kV project, he said, is just another salesman.

"He's quite burly," Chipps said. "He says, 'here, I'd like to show you my new vacuum.' I say wait a minute, we had one here last week, and we told him to get stuffed. 'Oh, but this is much better, it goes much further and wait until you see it.' I said look, get lost."

ITC Holdings Corp. is still raising money for the project. It has yet to ask for state and federal permits.