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The first part of the controversial CapX2020 lines received approval last week.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously approved a route permit for the 28-mile high-voltage transmission line between Monticello and St. Cloud.

According to Dan Wolf, assistant executive secretary, the PUC approved a route that generally follows Interstate Highway 94 from the Monticello nuclear plant to a new substation west of St. Cloud.

The utilities can now begin negotiations with landowners for easements. Construction is expected to start this fall and end by spring 2012.

CapX2020 (short for "capacity expansion by 2020") is a nearly six-year-old project aimed at bolstering grid reliability and easing grid congestion. Eleven transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding area, including Xcel Energy and Great River Energy, have been studying transmission issues and have set a course for development over the next 20 years.

A second phase – a 345 kV, 250-mile line from St. Cloud to Fargo, N.D. – is undergoing an environmental review, which should be completed by the end of the year.

The proposal calls for building four lines across Minnesota that are projected to cost nearly $2 billion and cover more than 700 miles.

CapX2020 would dramatically upgrade the entire Midwestern grid to better carry wind power from windy southwestern Minnesota to its load centers in the east, proponents say.

The utilities contend that the upper Midwest's electric transmission grid has not had a major upgrade in nearly 30 years. Couple that with electricity consumption in Minnesota nearly doubling since 1980, and it become clear that the grid is strained. Moreover, planning studies show that customer demand for electricity in the region will increase by 4,000 MW to 6,000 MW by 2020.

In addition to the Fargo, N.D. to St. Cloud, Minn 345 kVline, the other CapX 2020 transmission lines, which would snake from North Dakota through Minnesota and into Wisconsin, consist of: a 230 kV transmission line from Bemidji, Minn., to Grand Rapids, Minna 150-mile, 345 kV line traveling from Hampton, Minn., to La Crosse, Wis.; and a 200-mile, 345-kV transmission line weaving its way through Brookings Co., Minn. to Hampton.

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