U identifies model for renewable energy

An analysis from the U marked local CapX2020 as the future of energy.

Annalise Gall

An upper Midwest utilities partnership could help integrate widespread sustainable energy in the near future. 
An analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School for Public Affairs found that a local energy coalition, CapX2020, created a viable model for regional renewable energy planning. 
CapX2020’s energy grid is slated for completion next year and will cost $2.1 billion. The model uses resources from 11 energy groups and is the first major line expansion in the area in 40 years. 
The grid will cover areas across the Midwest and update aged infrastructure to create space for future wind or solar power farms to attach to the 800-mile-long line.
Marta Monti, the report’s lead researcher, said the extension could free up space to comply with high volumes of energy use and makes room for renewable energy sources in the future. 
“Before, the [energy] highway was completely congested, and it was at capacity. And we really couldn’t put any more cars on it. But now, we have a couple of additional lanes,” she said. 
The coalition formed in 2004 when adequate energy supply was a national concern following blackouts on the East Coast and in California, CapX2020’s Chair of Vision Will Kaul said.
Coalitions of this size rarely gain traction because it’s difficult to bring together the goals of many companies, CapX2020’s Vice Chair of Vision Teresa Mongensen said. 
Capx2020 formed because the interests of the energy groups involved meshed, Mongensen said. Each of the groups responded to concerns of aging infrastructure, statewide renewable energy mandates and community needs, she said. 
Monti said CapX2020 relies on public engagement because similar projects failed to account for public opinion. 
CapX2020 has met with community members before public hearings at open houses and coffee shops to gather input, Monti said. 
“They engaged above and beyond with the public — more so than anyone has ever done,” Monti said. “It has become the gold standard now for how to do this.” 
Extensions of CapX2020 have appeared across the region, including infrastructure projects in Iowa and Southern Minnesota using CapX2020’s contracts and project agreements as a template for their own, Monti said.
Less than 100 miles of the line — pieces in southeastern Minnesota and South Dakota — stands incomplete but will be finished in 2017, Mongensen said. 
“If we are serious about creating low carbon, sustainable energy systems, transmission is part of the mix,” professor of energy and environmental policy and law Elizabeth Wilson said.