Minnesota Power seeks quick approval of Bison 4 wind project

The North Dakota Public Service Commission plans to hold an Aug. 21 hearing on a May 3 application from Minnesota Power to add a 210-MW fourth phase to its Bison wind farm in North Dakota.

Minnesota Power, an operating division of ALLETE (NYSE: ALE), filed an application for a Certificate of Site Compatibility to construct the Bison 4 Wind Project. The preliminary project boundary encompasses approximately 47,062 acres in Oliver and Mercer counties, N.D. The project, when completed, will generate up to 210 MW, using up to 70 wind turbine generators depending on the turbine selected.

Minnesota Power noted in the application that it has historically maintained an energy resource portfolio of coal, hydro and biomass. In an effort to meet Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard and diversify its energy portfolio, it has been implementing a renewable development plan that began with 98.6 MW of purchased wind energy from the Oliver I and II Wind Energy Centers, owned by NextEra Energy Resources and located in Oliver County, N.D.

Minnesota Power’s next major project was construction of the 25-MW Taconite Ridge I Wind Energy Center in northeastern Minnesota. Taconite Ridge I began commercial operation in June 2008.

In 2009, Minnesota Power began construction on Phase 1A of the Bison 1 Wind Project in Morton and Oliver counties, N.D., and completed construction of Phase 1B of Bison 1 in the first quarter of 2012. In total, Bison 1 consists of 16 2.3-MW and 15 3.0-MW wind turbines generating 81.8 MW. The Bison 2 Project is adjacent to both the northeast and southwest portions of the Bison 1 Project and consists of 35 3.0-MW wind turbines generating 105 MW. The Bison 3 Project is adjacent to both the east and the west portions of the Bison 2 project and consists of 35 3.0-MW wind turbines generating 105 MW. Construction of Bison 2 and Bison 3 was completed in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The utility hasn’t picked the turbine make and size for Bison 4 yet, so this application assumes the greatest number of turbine locations, project area, and resulting impacts based on the worst case turbine characteristics (i.e. greatest hub height, largest rotor diameter, loudest turbine, etc.). In general, Minnesota Power will use larger turbine sizes when possible as a way to reduce the total project acres. For this project, it is not considering any turbines with less than a 3 MW capacity.

The Bison 4 project will interconnect with a new substation to be built by Minnesota Power in the southeastern corner of Mercer County that is an extension of the existing 230-kV transmission line (already permitted) and also with the existing 230-kV Bison Substation and then to the Square Butte Substation. The energy generated by the project will then be transmitted via Minnesota Power’s existing 250-kV DC Line and the AC transmission system as available and is intended to be used to meet Minnesota Power’s customer needs.

The transmission line extension and new substation are planned for construction as early as the fourth quarter of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. This schedule for the project and transmission upgrade, however, is contingent on obtaining all necessary approvals from the PSC and local governments.

Minnesota Power said it has retained Merjent Inc. to assist with environmental review, permitting, and preliminary engineering for the project. Minnesota Power anticipates receiving a certificate from the PSC in August 2013,so that it may begin construction as early as October 2013.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.