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CU Powerline & Activism



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  Why History Matters

     The CU Project was not the first interstate energy power-line, nor would it be the last, but the struggle surrounding this project was one which reveals many truths about the role of citizens in decision making and the way science, technology, and government lead the way even today.  The controversy also influenced the way Minnesotans think about energy: increasing supply rather than turning to conservation.  Despite our dependence on coal, Minnesota has taken great strides in renewable and alternative sources of energy.  The state is a leading producer of ethanol and has over a dozen ethanol production plants primarily in the southern half of the State. Minnesota is the only State that requires the statewide use of oxygenated motor gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol and ranks among the top States in wind power generation. Two nuclear power plants near the Twin Cities generate nearly one-fourth of the electricity produced in the State. [1] 

     A current controversy and transmission challenge today is the Big Stone Power Plant II proposed in October of 2004. Five local utilities have signed agreements to build a second electric generating unit on the site of the existing Big Stone Plant near Milbank, South Dakota. While plant construction is contingent on approval of all necessary permits, construction is already scheduled to begin Mid-2009 and the plant is scheduled to be commercially available Mid-2013. This planning is similar to what occurred with the CU Project: years of planning have been going on before it has even been released into the public knowledge base. Based in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, the five participating electric utilities serve more than a million people in five states in the Upper Midwest.  Based on the most recent design refinements, the project, including transmission, is expected to cost $1.6 billion. Consumers asked questions similar to the ones asked by the farmers during the CU project like:

  • Why is this project necessary?
  • What are you doing to minimize environmental controversy?
  • What alternative generation possibilities are you considering?
  • How will project sponsors get local government and landowners involved?

     Permitting and public comment has been going on since early 2005 and will continue through spring 2008. Protests have been staged and Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project and environmental activist says there's no such thing as clean coal, and she says the Big Stone partners instead should build a 1,000-megawatt wind farm. The director of NASA's Goddard Institute has asked Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to oppose the Big Stone II coal-fired plant at the source of the Minnesota River.

     I would urge anyone concerned about Minnesota’s and the nation’s energy issues to get involved to resist the building of Big Stone II Project and other unsustainable energy projects and to learn as much as possible about the history of Minnesota’s energy wars, the CU Powerline in particular. If you are wondering what else you can do to get involved, Fresh Energy, a national organization which seeks to significantly expand the development of clean, renewable electricity with ambitious laws and rules by state governments and the private sector is doing a lot to involve citizens.  They recommend two things for citizens to do:

•    Get Engaged – Get involved in policy decisions. Communicate regularly with your elected leaders about these important issues...they need to hear from you. Engage your civic organizations, faith groups and workplaces in promoting energy solutions. Contact Fresh Energy at 651-225-0878 or for more information and practical ideas.

•    Buy Renewable Energy – Sign up for your electric utility’s wind power program. It’s cheap and easy to do. If you can’t get a good rate from your local utility, consider buying Green Tags. These renewable energy credits put more clean power into our nation’s electric system, forcing polluting plants to cut back on their output. . [3]

 [1] "Minnesota Energy Profile." Energy Information Administration April 2008 <>.
[2] "Plant Project Overview." Big Stone II April 2008 <>.
[3] "Clean Electricity." Fresh Energy April 2008 <>.


Figure 16: Big Stone Power Plant II Location. [2]

Figure 17: Artist's rendering of the Big Stone Power Plant II. [2]

Last updated:  5/6/2008


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