By Dan Haugen

The Midwest electricity grid is getting a big upgrade.

The Midwest’s regional electricity grid operator approved a long-term plan Thursday that calls for $6.5 billion in new transmission projects aimed at helping states meet their renewable energy mandates and spreading the cost of renewable transmission across the region.

The plan is also expected to deliver economic benefits to customers by making the grid more reliable and efficient. The total amount of planned investment, which includes 215 projects, far exceeds previous years’ long-term plans, which have typically been around $1.5 billion.

“The Midwest has not seen this significant of a transmission expansion for decades,” Beth Soholt, executive director of the St. Paul-based advocacy group Wind on the Wires, said in a statement.

The board of directors of MISO (formerly the Midwest Independent Systems Operator), the nonprofit that manages the region’s high-voltage power lines, unanimously approved the plan.

Wind is expected to be a winner, but so are electricity customers. MISO said the benefits to ratepayers are projected to outweigh costs by more than a two-to-one margin. A retail customer that paid $11 in additional fees can expect to see $23 in benefits.

“Inflation in energy prices is something we anticipate, so anything we can do as a region to keep those costs in check is important,” Clair Moeller, MISO’s vice president of transmission asset management, said during a phone call with reporters Thursday morning.

The plan, known as the MISO Transmission Expansion Plan 2011, or MTEP11, includes 16 so-called “multi-value projects” — transmission lines that have broad, regional benefits that go beyond meeting local energy and reliability needs.

MISO said in its release that these multi-value projects will create up to 39,800 construction and 74,000 total annual jobs. They’re also expected to reduce costs by making sure less low-cost electricity is wasted through transmission losses, it said.

“In addition, all of MTEP11 projects are essential to helping the region manage the severe drop in planning reserve margins that is likely to occur in the next several years if pending environmental regulations proceed as planned,” Bear said.

Editor’s note: Policy associates for Fresh Energy, which publishes Midwest Energy News, have advocated for the MISO plan but were not involved in the reporting of this story.

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