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Studies and Reports > 2015 MN Biennial Report > Biennial Report Requirements

Transmission Projects Report 2015
Chapter 2: Biennial Report Requirements

2.0 Biennial Report Requirements

2.1 Generally

This is the eighth Biennial Transmission Projects Report to be filed by those utilities that own or operate electric transmission lines in Minnesota. The obligation to file such a report was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2001. Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425. The statute requires the utilities to file their transmission report by November 1 of each odd-numbered year.

All eight reports are all available on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission's eDockets webpage using the Docket Number from the table below. At least the past five reports are also available on the webpage maintained by the utilities: http://www.minnelectrans.com/

Biennial Report

PUC Docket Number

PUC Order

2015 E999/M-15-439



May 12, 2014



May 18, 2012



May 28, 2010



May 30, 2008



May 31, 2006



June 24, 2004



August 29, 2002

Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425 requires the utilities to list in the report specific present and reasonably foreseeable future inadequacies in the transmission system in Minnesota. The term "inadequacy" was not defined by the Legislature or by the Commission. The utilities have consistently stated that the term "inadequacy" is interpreted to be a situation where the present transmission infrastructure is unable or likely to be unable in the foreseeable future to perform in a consistently reliable fashion and in compliance with regulatory standards. This definition has been accepted by the Commission and others in past dockets.

The statute spells out certain categories of information that should be included in the report for each inadequacy, and the Commission has adopted rules that expand and clarify what is expected to be in the report (Minn. Rules Chapter 7848). These laws generally require not only an identification of present and foreseeable inadequacies but also a discussion of alternative ways of addressing each inadequacy and the potential issues and impacts associated with possible solutions to the situation. The utilities are also required to provide opportunities for public input in the planning and development of solutions to the various inadequacies and to describe in the report what efforts were undertaken to involve the public. The utilities discuss in Chapter 4 various efforts that have been undertaken to involve the public in transmission planning.

Over the years, in response to experiences with the rule requirements and to other developments in transmission planning, the MPUC has modified the application of the rules in a number of significant ways. One important modification recognizes that most transmission planning is now done through the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO). MISO prepares a report each year, called the MISO Transmission Expansion Plan (MTEP) Report. MISO transmission planning is conducted in public forums and the MTEP Report is publically available on the Internet. Unlike this state report, which is prepared every other year and focuses only on Minnesota, the MTEP Report is updated yearly and describes in detail transmission planning needs throughout the entire jurisdictional area of MISO, and not just in Minnesota.

Consequently, for the past two biennial reports – 2011 and 2013 – the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has allowed the utilities to reference the latest MTEP Report to provide information about the identified inadequacies in Minnesota. The 2015 Report, with the Commission's concurrence, also relies on the latest MTEP Report to identify upcoming transmission needs and to provide the necessary information about the possible alternatives to addressing each inadequacy. The utilities explain in section 6.1 how to find the pertinent information about each inadequacy in the MTEP Report.

The MPUC has also recognized that holding public meetings around the state and holding a webinar to describe ongoing transmission planning and needs has not resulted in any substantial participation by the public. The MPUC has granted the utilities a variance for the past several years from the requirement in the rules to hold yearly planning meetings in each transmission planning zone. For 2015, the MPUC has continued this variance and even exempted the utilities from holding a webinar. However, the utilities continue to conduct transmission planning in a manner that is open to the public and opportunities are provided for the public to participate in such planning and in the discussion of alternative solutions to the transmission needs under review.

In its May 12, 2014, Order accepting the 2013 biennial report the Commission did raise one caveat regarding the 2015 Report. The Commission stated that in the 2015 Report the utilities should include a discussion addressing Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425, subd. 2(c)(3). This statute provides that in the biennial report the utilities must "identify general economic, environmental, and social issues associated with each alternative." The utilities address in section 2.4 how this matter is addressed in this report.

2.2 Reporting Utilities

Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425 applies to those utilities that own or operate electric transmission lines in Minnesota. The MPUC has defined the term "high voltage transmission line" in its rules governing the Biennial Report to be any line with a capacity of 200 kilovolts or more and any line with a capacity of 100 kilovolts or more and that is either longer than ten miles or that crosses a state line. Minn. Rule part 7848.0100, subp. 5.  Each of the entities that is filing this report owns and operates a transmission line that meets the MPUC definition.  Information about the utility and transmission lines owned by each utility is provided in Chapter 7 of this Report. In addition, a contact person for each utility is included in Chapter 7.

The statute allows the entities owning and operating transmission lines to file this report jointly. The Minnesota Transmission Owners (MTO) has elected each filing year to submit a joint report and does so again with this report. The utilities jointly filing this report are:

American Transmission Company, LLC
Dairyland Power Cooperative
East River Electric Power Cooperative (will become part of Southwest Power Pool October 1, 2015)
Great River Energy
Hutchinson Utilities Commission
ITC Midwest LLC
L&O Power Cooperative
Marshall Municipal Utilities
Minnesota Power
Minnkota Power Cooperative
Missouri River Energy Services
Northern States Power Company d/b/a Xcel Energy
Otter Tail Power Company
Rochester Public Utilities
Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency
Willmar Municipal Utilities

Of the above utilities, East River Electric Power Cooperative, L&O Power Cooperative, Marshall Municipal Utilities, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Rochester Public Utilities and Willmar Municipal Utilities are not members of MISO; all the others are.

With the upcoming dissolution of MAPPCOR, MISO has agreed to perform planning coordination for Minnkota Power Cooperative. Many of the roles that MAPP performed for Minnkota Power Cooperative in the past will now be assumed by MISO.

2.3 Certification Requests

Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425, subd. 2, provides that a utility may elect to seek certification of a particular project identified in the Biennial Report. According to subdivision 3, if the Commission certifies the project, a separate Certificate of Need (CON) under Minn. Stat. § 216B.243 is not required.

On June 1, 2015, the MTO advised the Commission that there would be no certification requests included with the 2015 Biennial Report.

2.4 General Impacts

In its May 12, 2014, Order approving the 2013 Biennial Report, the Commission recognized that reference to the latest MTEP Report was an appropriate way to provide useful information about the inadequacies identified in the Biennial Report, but that the MTEP Report did not provide general information about the potential environmental, social, and economic impacts of possible alternatives to address the inadequacy, as required by Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425, subd. 2(c)(3). The Commission stated in its Order at page 6 that "in the future the information [in the MTEP Report] must be supplemented with a fuller discussion of economic, environmental, and social issues related to proposed alternative solutions to inadequacies listed in the report."

The utilities and the Department of Commerce staff did not object to providing a fuller discussion of the general economic, environmental and social issues associated with each alternative in the 2015 Biennial Report. However, the MTO would like to address here the manner in which the utilities approach this requirement to provide a fuller discussion of potential issues and impacts.

First of all, it is difficult to provide significant information about a transmission need that is several years in the future. The MPUC rules require the utilities to identify inadequacies that might affect reliability over the next ten years. Minn. Rules part 7848.1300, subpart D. A transmission planner is often not able to identify possible alternatives, let alone the impacts of the alternatives, for projects that are ten years in the future. Moreover, it is not uncommon for a potential reliability issue that may be looming several years in the future to subsequently be delayed for several more years or even indefinitely because of unforeseen events such as an economic recession or the closing of a large industrial user or even a change in government policy or tax provisions. Also, more pressing problems may develop that take precedence over more minor concerns and transmission planners may have to focus their attention on other projects.

Importantly, the statute says that the utilities are to identify general economic, environmental, and social issues associated with each alternative. This is a recognition that it is not always possible to know during the planning stage what issues may evolve when a particular project is developed in more detail. It is sufficient to address potential issues in a general way, and that is what the utilities have done here.

Thus, it is not possible for the utilities to provide specific discussion of potential impacts for each and every Tracking Number that is identified in this Biennial Report. There are over 100 separate Tracking Numbers, for one thing. Transmission planners and utility staff are well aware of the kind of issues that arise with any large energy facility, whether a transmission line or a generating plant. For example, they know that a transmission line may cross a wetland, or run through an agricultural field, or follow a residential street. They are well versed that a new generating plant has a certain footprint, and may result in the emission of various pollutants, and may require the transport of fuel. The utilities are aware that a large energy project has tax consequences for local government. They know that jobs will be created by the construction of a new facility and that the local area will be disrupted for a time while construction is ongoing. These are the kind of general impacts that can be addressed for projects that have not developed to the point where specific alternatives have been identified.

The time to provide an indepth analysis of potential impacts of a proposed project and the identified alternatives is when the utility has determined that a need for new infrastructure is certain enough and imminent enough that a project must be pursued. This is the time when the public begins to take notice of the need for a project and to participate in the analysis of alternatives. And this is when the utility must begin to pull together the information that is required to complete applications for a Certificate of Need and for a permit. These applications, and any environmental review that is conducted as part of the application process, will examine potential economic, environmental, and social issues in depth, with ample opportunities for public involvement and input.

The MTO can provide in this Biennial Report only a general discussion of the kind of impacts that are associated with certain types of energy projects, like transmission lines and substation upgrades and generating facilities. When a project is far enough along that a specific project has been identified and alternatives considered, a more detailed discussion is possible but that discussion more appropriately belongs in the docket for the permits required for the project.

An example of projects that have moved though the planning process are the CapX group projects. These projects started out as concepts for planning study purposes without any defined route or termination ends. Through the planning process preferred options and alternatives were identified and Certificates of Need and Route Permits were applied for. At this stage a more detailed analysis of routing impacts, environmental impacts, economic impacts, and social issues were more closely identified.

2.5 Renewable Energy Standards

The utilities are required to include in the Biennial Report a discussion of necessary transmission upgrades required to meet upcoming renewable energy standards. Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425, subd. 7. As with previous reports, this discussion is included in a separate Chapter 8.

2.6 Distribution Report/Grid Modernization

In 2015 the Legislature added new requirements for what is required to be submitted at the same time as the Biennial Report. Minn. Laws 2015, 1Sp2015, ch. 1, art 3, s 22, codified at Minn. Stat. § 216B.2425, Subdivision 2(e) of that statute now requires a utility operating under an approved multiyear rate plan to identify in its Biennial Transmission and Distribution Plan:

investments that it considers necessary to modernize the transmission and distribution system by enhancing reliability, improving security against cyber and physical threats, and by increasing energy conservation opportunities by facilitating communication between the utility and its customers through the use of two-way meters, control technologies, energy storage and microgrids, technologies to enable demand response, and other innovative technologies.

Subdivision 8, which is also new language, provides:

Each entity subject to this section that is operating under a multiyear rate plan approved under section 216B.16, subdivision 19, shall conduct a distribution study to identify interconnection points on its distribution system for small-scale distributed generation resources and shall identify necessary distribution upgrades to support the continued development of distributed generation resources, and shall include the study in its report required under subdivision 2.

These new reporting requirements apply only to utilities operating under an approved multiyear rate plan approved by the MPUC under section 216B.16, subd. 19. Xcel Energy is the only utility currently operating under such a plan and the only utility required to file a distribution study/grid modernization plan. Accordingly, Xcel Energy has submitted its report simultaneously with this biennial report under the same MPUC Docket Number but under separate cover.