COL Siting transmission lines should be energy priority

Dayton, Coleman, Gutknecht need to address subject

As Congress fashions an energy bill, our congressional delegation needs to first develop and then maintain a focus on what is the most vital part of the bill -- electricity transmission.

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Rep. Gil Gutknecht R-Minn., need to hear what area electricity engineers and executives are saying and do what it takes to bring more transmission capacity and transmission stability to Rochester, southeastern Minnesota and the multistate region.

At the top of the agenda must be a public discussion on the notion that the federal government should have the authority to site new transmission lines. This authority is being considered for inclusion in the energy bill.

At the extreme, such siting authority would build on a decision that transmission development is linked to national defense and the feds could possibility mandate construction over local opposition. At the other end, this potential authority would simply give the feds the ability to step in and facilitate development when states and local energy companies are unwilling or unable to build new transmission lines, even in the face of clearly defined needs.


Given the sometimes deep-rooted opposition to transmission development and the assumption that forced development and the alienation of citizens that would follow is not the way to go, Dayton, Coleman and Gutknecht need to get into the region and get talking.

Transmission, one of the three legs that lets us flick on the light switch, is the ability to move high-voltage electricity from where it's made to where it's needed. Generation, making electricity, and distribution, a term for the lower voltage lines that connect the transmission lines with homeowners and businesses, make up the other two links in the nation's most vital infrastructure.

Virtually nothing happens in this country without electricity. It is as important as water. There would be no clean drinking water without electricity to draw water in from lakes and rivers, clean it and pump it to taps. It doesn't get any more basic than that.

Rochester's and the wider region's two transmission needs are capacity and stability. The pair of needs are intertwined but are not the same. Capacity, the ability to provide a greater volume, if you will, of electricity to an area can be increased by new technology upgrades to existing lines or additional lines connecting generation facilities to distribution networks. Stability, on the other hand, only comes from more transmission lines. A greater number of lines can help keep domino like shutdowns from surging across power grids.

Rochester has but one very high voltage line feeding the area's nearly 300 megawatt need. While the region has multiple sources of generation and other lower voltage feeder transmission, if the 345-kilovolt line from northern Minnesota generation fails, or should something happen to our single tap into this line, the ability to keep the lights on would be severely tested.

Another point in the siting authority question is the hesitance of investors to commit money when the process leading up to construction could take years and cost upward of 30 percent of the total cost. Worse, if the siting plan falls through, all the money spent up to that point would be spent in vain. It is not a situation that inspires investor confidence. This is the strongest reason for federal siting authority.

Also holding back investment is a question of how transmission line use is priced. Currently, the feds allow a rate of return of nearly 13 percent. This is enough.

However, which users will be charged to pay for the construction of what transmission lines is also a problem in need of a solution.


For example, if another high-voltage line is built to help support the Rochester area need, then should just Rochester area residents pay or should the cost be spread out across Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin? The widest sharing of the cost seems appropriate because more lines brings stability to large regional grids.

Gutknecht, Dayton and Coleman are not talking much about this subject. They should. The transmission infrastructure directly impacts the safety of area residents and the pending decision will touch the pocketbooks.

Discussion is the first step but action is needed on this pressing issue.

What To Read Next
Get Local