Obama seeks fast track for powerlines in Minn., elsewhere

The Obama administration plans to fast-track a high-voltage power line planned for Hampton, Minn. to LaCrosse, Wis.

The line is one of four major powerline build-outs planned by a consortium of Minnesota utilities, called CapX2020. Spokesman Tim Carlsgaard said they've been working through approvals by Minnesota and Wisconsin for four years. Federal review can be extremely time-consuming, he said.

"What we've found is, if anything, they have a lack of personnel," he said. "With this many projects, certainly being identified as one of these seven may help us move towards the top for review and final approval."

The government plans to speed reviews by coordinating the work of nine different agencies, setting clear deadlines, and maintaining a single review document, to be posted on the web.

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The Minnesota-Wisconsin line is one of seven being expedited around the country. The projects will provide more than 2,500 miles of new transmission lines in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In all, the projects are expected to create more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs, help avoid blackouts, restore power more quickly when outages occur and reduce the need for new power plants, officials said.

"To compete in the global economy, we need a modern electricity grid," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday in a statement. "An upgraded electricity grid will give consumers choices while promoting energy savings, increasing energy efficiency and fostering the growth of renewable energy resources."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the seven power lines being expedited under the pilot program will serve as important links across the country to increase the capacity and reliability of the nation's power grid.

"This is the kind of critical infrastructure we should be working together to advance in order to create jobs and move our nation toward energy independence," he said.

David DeCampli, president of PPL Electric Utilities, and Ralph LaRossa, president of Public Service Electric and Gas. Co., who are teaming up to build a 145-mile transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, applauded the administration's efforts. Their project and others should ensure that high-priority electric infrastructure projects are built and placed in service in a timely manner, the power executives said.

Pam Eaton, deputy vice president for public lands at The Wilderness Society, also hailed the project.

"Building responsibly sited power lines to access world-class renewable resources can put thousands of Americans to work, bring cost-effective clean power to people who need it, and help some of the rural counties in the West hardest hit by the economic downturn," she said.

In addition to the Minnesota-Wisconsin project, the others are:

• A 500 kilovolt (kV), 300-mile transmission line proposed by Idaho Power in Oregon and Idaho.

• 1,150 miles of high-voltage lines across Wyoming and Idaho.

• A 210-mile, 500 kV line near Salem, Ore.

• Two 500 kV transmission lines in Arizona and New Mexico.

• A 700-mile, 600 kV transmission line in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. The project is intended to help develop new wind projects in Wyoming.

• A 145-mile, 500 kV transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.