Minnesota Power, a Duluth-based utility serving the Iron Range, has secured a key approval for its plan to build a 500kV transmission line that will facilitate the delivery of renewable and carbon-free hydropower from the Canadian province of Manitoba to the US state of Minnesota.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) has cleared a request for a Certificate of Need for the Great Northern transmission line.
Hydro system -a “battery” for wind power
The transmission project will require an investment of between US$560 million and US$710 million, based on 2013 estimates. Minnesota Power will own a majority stake in the system (51%), which will help it deliver at least 383MW of energy to its clients by June 1, 2020 under power purchase agreements (PPAs) with Manitoba Hydro. The project calls for construction of the line in Minnesota from the US-Canada border to Minnesota Power’s Blackberry Substation near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Manitoba Hydro will pay 72% of the transmission project’s capital costs and own 49% of the line — a stake it says it intends to sell to another utility. Minnesota Power is responsible for 28% of the cost, and will own 51% of the line.
The planned transmission system will allow Minnesota Power to use Manitoba Hydro’s hydroelectric system to store electricity generated by the Bison wind power centre in North Dakota. The company commissioned the 205MW fourth phase of the particular wind project in January 2015, bringing the complex’s total capacity to nearly 500MW.
Minnesota Power will be able to deliver electric energy from its Bison wind installation to Manitoba Hydro, a Winnipeg-based utility that operates 15 hydropower stations and already sells electricity to other Minnesota utilities, when wind production is high and demand on Minnesota Power’s electric system is low, according to a statement from Minnesota Power. In this way, Manitoba Hydro’s system will act as a 'battery' for energy produced from Minnesota Power’s North Dakota wind farm.
The company is also waiting for MPUC’s approval of a route permit application this summer, as well as for a Presidential Permit from the US Department of Energy for an international border crossing.
Great Northern Transmission Line-a signature component of strategy
The Great Northern Transmission Line is a signature component of Minnesota Power’s $365 million EnergyForward strategy to reduce carbon emissions and assure continued reliability and affordable rates while diversifying its energy portfolio to a one-third renewable, one-third coal and one-third natural gas energy mix.
The EnergyForward strategy aims to reduce carbon and other emissions by closing three coal-fired generators, replacing two of them with natural gas units and acquiring more renewable energy, especially wind and hydropower. The utility also has repeatedly exceeded the state’s conservation mandate of 1.5% annually and this year will get 25% of its power from wind. Last year, federal regulators pointed to Minnesota policies as examples of how to cut greenhouse gases by 30% -a huge achievement since Minnesota Power, the state’s third-largest power company is the most coal-dependent.
The Great Northern Transmission Line will be approximately 350km (220 miles) long and constructed on a 60m (200-foot) width right-of-way most likely located in the Minnesota counties of Beltrami, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, and Roseau.
Dave McMillan, Minnesota Power executive vice president says that as policymakers continue to move forward with aggressive calls for carbon reduction, this line and associated energy supply agreements provide Minnesota Power with flexibility that will benefit their customers, as well as the surrounding regions.