My Guest Column is in the Northfield News:

Transmission Bill is Policy Disaster

Ray Cox supports the Transmission Omnibus Bill because “SF1368 contains some very good provisions. The bill has an interesting group of supporters.”

Sounds good, until you look deeper, and that’s the job of a legislator. I don’t hear the important questions: What’s the supporters’ interest in this bill? Is this bill in the public interest?

The bill’s supporters don’t speak for a broad coalition of “environmental groups.” They speak in their own names in their own self-interest growing from a transmission agreement in 2003, between the Izaak Walton League, ME3, North American Water Office and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The agreement contained a transmission agenda on which this bill is based, promoted by these groups, notably “Wind on the Wires” (WOW), a Walton/ME3 pseudo-organization based on a very large grant from the Energy Foundation. In 2001, WOW received $4.5 million and in 2003, the day after the TRANSLink agreement was announced, it was awarded $8.1 million. The purpose of this Wind on the Wires grant? To promote transmission.

WOW has joined with utilities, transmission organizations and coal companies with plants in North and South Dakota to promote transmission in the hopes that large wind developments will secure transmission access. WOW has pushed environmental groups to adopt its transmission agenda.

What’s wrong with that? It assumes that the many megawatts of planned coal upgrades and construction will not usurp transmission access, but that cannot be guaranteed. It also assumes that large central station wind developments which necessitate large transmission infrastructure, which is only one option to get renewables on line. The SEED coalition, composed of the major environmental groups, has repeatedly declined to adopt the WOW transmission agenda, a significant policy statement.

Yet on his blog, Ray Cox claims that SF1368 contains provisions that he’s “glad to see:”

* Creation of the Community Based Energy Development ? or C-BED. This tariff will help Minnesota property owners finance small wind-energy systems.

* Promotion of bio-mass energy projects.

* Promotion of development of hydrogen energy technologies.

* Includes a Wind Integration Study to determine what is needed to reach a statewide 20 percent energy from renewable sources. The report will be presented to the Legislature in January 2006.

* Promotes construction of transmission lines that are needed for the delivery of wind energy.

It’s not that simple. C-BED corrects a problem created by “environmental” groups in the negotiation of the wind tariff, which was set too low for a competitive investors market to develop. C-BED front-end loads the contract, rather than correct the problem. An avoidant approach is not good policy.

Biomass and hydrogen projects are a mixed bag that requires a more thoughtful forum than legislation, because the green house gas and fuel preference issues of biomass and the issue of hydrogen production from onerous coal and nuclear sources have not been settled.

A Renewable Energy Standard is a good thing for Minnesota, but the WOW party line would not permit language that the energy be generated in Minnesota, conferring local benefits from taxes, jobs and investment. For that reason, the RES lost some grassroots support.

“Transmission for wind” is an illusion, as we learned in the southwest Minnesota transmission proceeding where only 213-302 megawatts of the 2085 capacity 345kV line is coming south from Buffalo Ridge into the line. The 1700MW of remaining capacity is for what? Transmission under federal law is “non-discriminatory,” as is electricity under the laws of physics, and no one can assure that transmission will be “for wind.” In fact, it is a lot easier to assure that much will be for coal, given the number of coal plants under construction, for example the Big Stone and Coal Creek additions of 1,100MW. The CapX2020 plan for transmission criss-crossing the state shows what’s in store for us.

The transmission provisions are significant changes in public policy. Ray Cox has been given resources for follow-up, he’s even attended my “Transmission 1001,” yet he accepts the Transmission Omnibus Bill.

This bill allows TRANSLink style companies to operate in Minnesota and divests our state of jurisdiction over that transmission. Ray Cox is willing to accept “regional” need as justification for new transmission rather than require it be based on need within Minnesota. He is also willing to accept language that gives transmission owners automatic rate recovery for transmission “for renewables” rather than have them prove up that claimed use.

All legislators have access to this information, and have the ability to ask questions. It’s their job. We’ll soon wake up and discover our energy nightmare.

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