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Letter: Big Stone II will ensure dependable power to upper Midwest

I've followed the Big Stone transmission application with great interest, and I was surprised and dismayed to learn that a panel of administrative law judges has recommended that Minnesota regulators reject the project. Your region's additional generation and transmission infrastructure mirrors that of the nation as a whole. It's no secret that a strong, growing economy depends on reliable, affordable electricity.

That's the message I heard across North Dakota and South Dakota in recent weeks as I met with business leaders, government officials and legislators. And that's exactly what Big Stone II and its proposed transmission lines are designed to help ensure -- dependable power supplies that keep us competitive in a global economy.

Of course, the utility partners seeking to build Big Stone II understand and embrace the importance of adding more renewable energy to their generation portfolios, and they also are keenly aware of the expanding role that energy efficiency must play in meeting the region's energy needs. However, recent studies conducted by the Electric Power Research as well as the Edison Foundation both concluded that while energy efficiency will grow significantly in the coming decades -- and can offset the need for some new power plants -- new generation capacity will be required to ensure an affordable and reliable supply of electricity.

The utilities also take very seriously their mission of ensuring that every customer has electricity around the clock -- and they understand the critical role that coal-based generation plays in making that happen. They also understand that if new coal-based electricity is barred, utilities in the short term must turn primarily to natural gas, which is an expensive fuel and likely to become more so if demand continues to grow. In the winter, natural gas also is an important home-heating fuel in the upper Midwest.

It is also worth pointing out that the transmission lines proposed between Minnesota and South Dakota also can help send renewable wind energy on to the power grid, as well as coal-based electricity. The bottom line is that electricity consumption will continue to grow nationally and in the upper Midwest; to meet that demand and to keep the economy growing, utilities must have a balanced portfolio of energy options, including renewables, efficiency, nuclear, gas and, yes, modern, coal-based electricity.

-- M. William Brier, Vice President, Policy & Public Affairs, Edison Electric Institute, Washington D.C.