Minnesota Power seeks permits for new line
Minnesota Power officials said Wednesday that they have formally applied for state and federal permits to build the proposed 240-mile Great Northern high voltage electric transmission line across northern Minnesota.
The Duluth-based utility, which has been planning the project for years, also released two route options for the line that eventually will bring hydroelectric power from northern Manitoba to the Iron Range.
The two routes are the last remaining of several options the utility considered and come after some 52 meetings held to measure public input.
Minnesota Power wants to start building the 500-kilovolt line from the Canadian border near Roseau to a substation near Blackberry, east of Grand Rapids, in 2016. They hope to have it carrying electricity by 2020.
The project is expected to cost between $500 million and $650 million, depending on the route.
Plans to extend the new transmission line from Blackberry to Hermantown to service the Duluth area have been dropped, at least for now.
The utility said it filed a route permit application with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and applied for a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy, needed because the line will cross the U.S.-Canadian border.
The electricity will come from a planned but as yet unbuilt hydroelectric dam proposed by Manitoba Hydro. The Canadian utility has signed a long-term agreement to sell hydroelectric power to Minnesota Power.
The PUC ultimately will decide if Minnesota Power’s project is needed by its customers and whether it’s cost-effective and compatible with state environmental policy, but that isn’t expected to be a problem because the agency already has approved the utility’s plan to purchase the electricity from Manitoba Hydro.
“The Great Northern Transmission Line further transforms the energy landscape by reducing carbon emissions, strengthening the regional energy grid, adding more renewable power and supporting new industrial growth on Minnesota’s Iron Range,” Al Hodnik, president and chief officer of Allete, Minnesota Power’s parent company, said in a statement. “This international project is the right project at the right time to promote a more balanced energy future.”
Some concerns have been raised by property owners along the proposed line routes, while others have expressed opposition to the routes following existing lines more closely to avoid infringing on undeveloped areas. Minnesota Power’s preferred option is the more northerly and easterly route, but the PUC ultimately will make the decision on which route, if any, is picked.
Opposition also has surfaced to the proposed Keeyask Dam on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba that would generate the electricity. Some Manitobans have questioned the need for the $6.4 billion project, saying a rapidly changing energy market could leave provincial residents with the bill if the energy isn’t needed. And while several Cree tribes have signed on as partners in the dam construction, opposition has surfaced from some First Nations activists.
The Manitoba Public Utilities Board is expected to issue its report and recommendations on whether to build the dam in June.
Minnesota Power wants to broaden its energy source options to satisfy any future increase in demand from new and expanded mines and to help in its transition away from coal-fired electricity. The goal within 10 years is to produce about one-third of its energy from wind and hydro, one-third from natural gas and one-third form coal. That’s down from 90 percent coal just 10 years ago.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected this summer to announce new regulations for coal-fired power plants to curb carbon dioxide emissions, one of the greenhouse gasses blamed for spurring climate change. The agency already has announced strict carbon rules for any new coal-fired plants.
The utility says that hydro power complements its growing base of wind-powered electricity in North Dakota because hydro sources can continue to supply power at night when wind turbines often stop spinning. The hydro system also can “store” excess electricity from wind when it’s not needed, which helps Minnesota Power fully capture electricity from its growing wind generator farm in North Dakota.
Minnesota Power will own 51 percent of the Great Northern Transmission Line, while a subsidiary of Manitoba Hydro will own 49 percent. Manitoba Hydro will pay the roughly $350 million cost to build the Canadian portion of the transmission line.