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Midwest power grid capacity opens up, boosting renewable projects

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Mike Moen

(Minnesota News Connection) States such as Minnesota have made progress in renewable-energy output, but a lack of grid capacity has created a logjam, preventing some projects from moving forward.

A decision issued Monday bodes well for such efforts in the Midwest. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, approved a $10 billion investment for 18 long-term transmission projects for its Midwest Subregion.

Natalie McIntire, technical consultant for the Clean Grid Alliance, called the action monumental amid the push for a carbon-free future under goals set out by state governments and utilities themselves.

"We're trying to meet the needs of utilities as they're planning for shifting towards clean energy resources," McIntire explained. "Clean energy resources that both benefit the environment but also have low cost to consumers."

The operator estimated the investments will provide a minimum of $37 billion in benefits to ratepayers over the life of the projects. While the news is seen as a boon for further advancing resources such as wind and solar, McIntire cautioned it will take a handful of years for new transmission lines to be operational.

Following the recent spike in energy prices, supporters of fossil fuels want to slow the closing of coal plants to meet current demands. But those backing renewables argue it is still more cost-effective to stay on the clean-energy path, and McIntire said the new transmission projects will allow for flexibility as innovation evolves. 

"Our generation mix and the technologies are changing so rapidly that it's hard to know exactly where we're going," McIntire acknowledged.

In the meantime, McIntire stressed building more capacity for a variety of clean-energy resources paves the way for a more reliable grid.

"The transmission grid that we're building for the future is one that we expect to be much more reliable," McIntire pointed out. "In terms of being able to continue to meet consumer electricity demand during winter storms and during the summer when we have high heat indexes."

In all, officials say the new lines should add as much as 53 gigawatts of renewables and battery storage, enough to power about 12 million homes and create about 200,000 jobs.