State PUC nears initial decisions on Minnesota Power line project

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will be looking at its Dec. 19 meeting at decisions related to Minnesota Power‘s Great Northern Transmission Line project, which is designed to wheel 750 MW of power out of Canada into the Upper Midwest market.

The project includes high voltage connections between the province of Manitoba in Canada and the Blackberry Substation in Itasca County, Minn. It would enable additional electric energy deliveries from Manitoba Hydro to meet existing and future energy needs. The transmission line would be approximately 235-270 miles in length, commission staff noted in a Dec. 12 briefing memo.

The project also includes an expansion of the Blackberry Substation to accommodate the 500 kV line, a 500/230 kV transformer and associated 230 kV and 500 kV equipment.

The project would join with a new 90-130 mile transmission line in Canada to form a new international transmission interconnection to provide approximately 750 MW of transfer capability.

The questions before the commission at its Dec. 19 meeting will be:

  • Should the commission accept the certificate of need application as complete?
  • Should the commission direct that the certificate of need application be reviewed using the informal or expedited process or refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a contested case proceeding?
  • Should the commission vary the time limits of its rules that relate to the timing of public meetings?

In October 2012, Minnesota Power (MP) filed a notice plan petition for its Great Northern High Voltage Transmission Line project. In October of this year, MP filed a certificate of need application for the construction of the project.

Several regional utilities offer another option

Northern States Power d/b/a Xcel Energy, Otter Tail Power, Great River Energy and Missouri River Energy Services filed joint comments on the application. They are all transmission owners within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) region, and also participants within the CapX2020 joint regional transmission planning efforts. The utilities stated that the application contains sufficient information addressing the required application content requirements to proceed with processing and analyzing the certificate of need application.

Regarding procedural treatment of the application, the utilities stated there is a 500-kV alternative to the project (called the Western Option) that has been explored as part of the MISO transmission service request planning process. The utilities stated that the Western Option provides a reasonable alternative to meet MP’s current needs and offers a cost-effective solution at higher power transfer levels that may be required in the future. The utilities said they have conducted additional studies on the Western Option that merit additional record development through use of a contested case proceeding.

This international transmission interconnection is needed to support delivery of hydroelectric energy from Manitoba Hydro to the U.S. from two new generating stations under development in northern Manitoba that will be capable of producing more than 2,000 MW, Minnesota Power said in an Oct. 22 public statement about the project.

Beginning in June 2020, Minnesota Power will utilize the line to deliver 250 MW from Manitoba Hydro through a power purchase agreement approved by the Minnesota PUC in early 2012. In addition, the two utilities recently finalized a term sheet outlining how Minnesota Power will purchase additional energy and substantially expand its energy storage opportunities using the new transmission asset.

Minnesota Power will own 51% of the Great Northern line, while a unit of Manitoba Hydro will own 49%. Minnesota Power estimates that construction of the project in the U.S., including substation work, would cost $400m to $600m, depending upon final route. Subject to receipt of permits, construction is anticipated to begin in June 2016 and take about 48 months to complete.

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.