Minnesota Power narrows route options for power lines from Winnipeg to Duluth

Minnesota Power has narrowed the route alternatives for the U.S. portion of a transmission project to bring clean hydropower from Winnipeg, Man., to Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range and continuing to the area of Duluth, Minn., and is presenting the alternatives to interested parties in the affected areas.

“This is our second round of public meetings,” a spokesperson for Minnesota Power told TransmissionHub April 17.

Last fall, the utility presented broader route corridors to the public and, based on the input received, narrowed the corridors to the multiple route options being presented in a series of 14 public meetings being held through April 25.

The project consists of two segments: a 300-mile, 500-kV Winnipeg to Iron Range project, and the 50-mile, 345-kV Iron Range to Duluth project. Minnesota Power, a division of ALLETE (NYSE:ALE), will build the portions of the two segments that extend from the Canadian border to the state’s Iron Range and to Duluth, and has dubbed its portion of the project the Great Northern Transmission Line. Manitoba Hydro will build the Canadian portion of the 500-kV line from Winnipeg to the United States border (Docket No. 12-1163).

The project will deliver hydropower generated at Manitoba Hydro dams to customers in the U.S., including several of the utility’s industrial customers that currently process taconite and manufacture paper in the Iron Range, the spokesperson said. It will also provide additional capacity that will be used to power several large industrial projects in the area that are slated to come on line later in the decade. Finally, the project will enhance the reliability of the transmission system in the area while providing a link to other areas in the Midwest, the spokesperson said.

Importing hydropower will help Minnesota Power further balance its energy portfolio, reduce its reliance on coal-fired generation and enable it to better manage its renewable resources.

“We’re now at about 20% [renewable energy], so purchasing power from Manitoba Hydro is really a way for us to diversify our energy mix while also ensuring that we’re providing the most cost-effective energy we can for our customers.” the spokesperson said.

The input received during the ongoing series of public meetings will be used to further define the routes prior to applying for a certificate of need (CN) from Minnesota regulators.

“We’ll take that information and ultimately get to at least two final routes, which we will then submit to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission [(PUC)],” the spokesperson said.

The utility expects to file its application with the PUC some time this summer. The PUC will review the application and hold public hearings before issuing a ruling. That process is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year, according to the project website.

Following the obtaining of a CN, the process calls for Minnesota Power to obtain a route permit. That process allows the PUC to review the preferred routes identified by Minnesota Power and determine which route will be used. The route permit is anticipated at the end of 2013 or early 2014, the spokesperson said.

The final route will also have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in addition to the PUC, a process the utility estimated could take until mid-2015.

Because the project crosses an international border, a Federal Presidential Permit for the project must be obtained from DOE, which the utility anticipates in late 2015. The project also triggers a review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

If the necessary approvals are received from state and federal entities, the utility will then design the project and apply for other permits that may be necessary. Construction is expected to start in 2017, with an in-service date of June 2020.