CapX2020 frequently asked questions

1. Can you tell me more about CapX2020?
2. Why are these lines being proposed?
3. Where will the energy that flows on the new lines come from?
4. Will wind energy be on the new lines?
5. Who will benefit from the transmission improvements?
6. How will I find out if my property potentially is affected?
7. How can I get involved?
8. What can landowners who host any new transmission lines expect in the form of compensation?
9. What do transmission structures look like?
10. Will the new lines be safe?
11. What about EMF?
12. Why not build the new lines underground?
13. When will the lines be built?
14. How much will the lines cost? Will my bills go up?

  

1. Can you tell me more about CapX2020?

CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region to expand the electric transmission grid to ensure continued reliable and affordable service. The new transmission lines will be built in phases designed to meet this increasing demand as well as to support renewable energy expansion.

  • Bemidji-Grand Rapids, 68 miles, 230 kV
  • Fargo-St. Cloud, about 210 miles, 345 kV
  • Monticello-St. Cloud, about 28 miles, 345 kV
  • Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse, 150 miles, 345 kV
  • Brookings County-Hampton, 250 miles, 345 kV

The CapX2020 utilities - investor-owned, electric cooperatives and municipals - include those that serve the majority of customers in Minnesota and the surrounding region.

For more information, see the CapX2020 proposed transmission line projects fact sheet.

2. Why are these lines being proposed?

The Upper Midwest's electric transmission grid hasn't had a major upgrade in nearly 30 years. Electricity consumption in Minnesota has nearly doubled since 1980, according to data from the state's department of commerce. Wisconsin has seen its energy use grow 2 percent annually during the past decade; in 2005, residential energy use increased 3 percent, while commercial use grew more than 5 percent. South Dakota's energy demand and use are projected to grow 1-2 percent annually during the next 10-15 years. And in North Dakota, electricity consumption increased 3 percent annually from 1980 to 2005.

Our electricity demand has risen in proportion both to the growing number of electronic items and appliances we depend on and to the increasing size of our homes. For example, in 2007, the average household had 25 consumer electronic products, such as computers, DVD players, video game consoles, cordless phones, digital cameras and high-definition televisions; in 1975, the average household had less than two (Consumer Electronics Association). The average single-family home in the Midwest is nearly 45 percent larger today than it was in 1980 (2008 Buildings Energy Data Book).

Additional information on how Americans are using more electricity can be found in the Electricity usage continues to climb fact sheet.

3. Where will the energy that flows on the new lines come from?

Due to the transmission grid's interconnected nature as well as to electricity's nature - it flows like water in a stream - it's generally difficult to identify a specific source of electricity on the grid.

The proposed CapX2020 transmission lines will serve the region's expected growth and help begin to meet Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard (RES), which requires utilities to deliver 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 (Xcel Energy is mandated to deliver 30 percent by 2020, with 25 percent from wind). Wisconsin has a 10 percent mandate by 2015. Most of that energy comes from wind turbines.

4. Will wind energy be on the new lines?

Minnesota ranks ninth in the country for wind energy potential (North Dakota is first and South Dakota is fourth), much of which is located along the Buffalo Ridge in southern and southwest Minnesota. The Buffalo Ridge extends from Iowa through Minnesota and the Dakotas. The Brookings County-Hampton 345 kV line will expand access to these rich wind resources by adding about 700 MW of capacity to the transmission grid. That line, along with other projects recently completed or currently under construction or in the planning stages, has the potential to add nearly 2,000 MW of wind capacity to the transmission grid. It's estimated Minnesota needs about 5,000 MW of renewable energy to meet the RES, one of the nation's most aggressive renewable energy laws.

5. Who will benefit from the transmission improvements?

All electricity customers in Minnesota and the surrounding region will benefit from a more robust and reliable electric transmission system. CapX2020 will address potentially serious local reliability issues in the Rochester, St. Cloud, La Crosse and Alexandria areas. Reliable and affordable electricity is the backbone to a robust economy and vibrant community. The expansion of the renewable energy industry in Minnesota will also benefit the entire state and region.

6. How will I find out if my property potentially is affected?

In July 2007, the CapX2020 utilities mailed 73,000 notice letters to landowners in three 345 kV transmission line "notice study corridors." The letters explained the project and briefed landowners on how to become involved. To date, the utilities have hosted nearly 100 open houses and 33 routing work group meetings throughout the 345 kV corridors to inform landowners, local governments and other interested parties about the project and gather land use information. The CapX2020 utilities have also sent out more than 500,000 direct mail pieces and placed nearly 300 ads in local newspapers.

7. How can I get involved?

You can provide comments to the utilities on both routing and need on the www.CapX2020.com home page or by sending letters to or calling the project contacts (click on project links above for contact information). All comments, information and suggestions are valued and taken into consideration when developing proposals.

The CapX2020 utilities have submitted the required regulatory permits in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Visit their websites at:

8. What can landowners who host any new transmission lines expect in the form of compensation?

The CapX2020 utilities will provide fair compensation in the form of a one-time easement payment to property owners who host power lines. Property owners retain ownership of the land and may continue to use the land around transmission structures. For more information on transmission line easements, see the Understanding easements and rights-of-way fact sheet.

9. What do transmission structures look like?

Single-pole structures for the three 345 kV lines are proposed. Steel H-frame structures are being used for the Bemidji-Grand Rapids 230 kV line. H-frame structures are two wood or steel poles with cross bracing and conductor supports. They can be embedded in the ground without a foundation and vary in height from 75 to 150 feet; spans between structures range from 600 to 900 feet. The following fact sheet provides photos of the types of structures: Proposed transmission line infrastructure fact sheet.

10. Will the new lines be safe?

Yes. Every effort is made to ensure safety in construction, operation and maintenance of transmission lines. Lines and line infrastructure are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions. Protective devices at line terminals stop the electricity flow under any abnormal operating circumstances. Utility practices meet or exceed standards set by national electric safety codes as well as those adopted by local governments.

11. What about EMF?

Electric and magnetic fields (EMF), are created by anything that conducts electricity, including transmission lines, household appliances and business equipment. These fields are strongest closest to their source, so the farther away you are from the source, the less EMF reaches your body. EMF exposure from transmission lines, which are high in the air and outside the negotiated easement, is minimal. More detailed information on EMF is located here: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/

Decades of scientific and medical research, reviewed by science organizations and government agencies, have found no cause/effect evidence of threats to human health from EMF.

For more information, as well as an extensive list of references, review a booklet prepared by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, National Institute of Health, at www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/

12. Why not build the new lines underground?

The utilities are proposing overhead lines because of reliability and cost. While it is common for lower voltage transmission lines to be buried (lines less than 69 kV), it is rare to build high voltage transmission lines underground. Underground high-voltage transmission lines generally cost up to 10 times more than overhead high-voltage lines; that’s a cost impact Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin customers cannot bear. The technology to build lines underground for long distances is also extremely difficult to manage. With overhead lines, air cools the lines and keeps them at a safe operating temperature. Underground lines require cooling mechanisms, which increases cost and decreases reliability. Locating and repairing underground line failures also takes longer, leading to longer outages. Installing underground high voltage transmission lines requires lengthy, disruptive construction techniques. Design concerns such as capacity and heat dissipation are frequent limitations. Underground systems are justified primarily in heavily populated downtown urban centers, where right-of-way is severely limited for overhead lines.

13. When will the lines be built?

Line construction started in 2011 and is expected to continue through 2015. The Certificate of Need (CN) application for the three 345 kV lines was filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MN PUC) in August 2007; it was granted in May 2009. A CoN application was filed for the Bemidji-Grand Rapids 230 kV project in March 2008; it was granted in July 2009.
 
Route Permit applications were filed with the MN PUC for the following:

  • Bemidji-Grand Rapids 230 kV project – filed July 4, 2008; granted November 5, 2010; project construction started in summer 2011
  • Brookings County-Hampton project – filed December 29, 2008; granted September 14, 2010 and March 1, 2011; construction will start in April 2012
  • Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project – filed January 19, 2010; administrative law judge route recommendation February 8, 2012
  • Fargo-St. Cloud project – filed October 1, 2009; granted June 10, 2011; construction started near Alexandria in early 2012
  • Monticello-St. Cloud project – filed April 8, 2009; granted July 12, 2010; energized and placed in service in December 2011

A Facility Permit was filed November 22, 2010 with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission for the Brookings County-Hampton project; it was granted June 14, 2011.

A joint Certificate of Corridor Compatibility and Route Permit application was filed October 3, 2011 with the North Dakota Public Service Commission for the Fargo-St. Cloud project.

A Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity was filed January 3, 2011 with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project.

Schedules can change, so please continue to check the CapX2020 website and read your local newspaper and project newsletters for updates. The CapX2020 utilities will publish meeting notices in newspapers and on the project website.

14. How much will the lines cost? Will my bills go up?

The Group 1 projects are estimated to cost $1.7 billion plus an additional $200 million for upsizing to double circuit capable structures. Transmission costs generally make up 7 to 10 percent of a customer's bill. In that case, Xcel Energy customers can expect an incremental increase to around $2 per month at the peak of construction (2013-2014). In December 2011, the Brookings County-Hampton project was approved as a multi-value project, meaning project costs will be allocated to all utility customers throughout the Midwest in MISO's footprint.