Making two ends of Canadian and U.S. power lines meet at the border is a tricky job

Manitoba Hydro wants its end of a cross-border power line to actually meet up at the border at the same place as the Minnesota Power end, so it sent a July 30 letter warning that Minnesota regulators are offering several meet-up points, only one of which will actually work for Manitoba Hydro.

Minnesota Power on July 30 filed a copy of the Manitoba Hydro letter with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has been reviewing Minnesota Power’s plans for its end of the line, which would allow the transport of Canadian hydropower into the Minnesota market, allowing Minnesota Power to meet its clean energy commitments.

“As you are aware,” said the Manitoba Hydro letter, “Manitoba Hydro is the Proponent for the Canadian portion of the 500 kV transmission project known in Canada as the ‘Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project,’ and in the U.S. as the Great Northern Transmission Line (Project). We recently reviewed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (June 19, 2015), submitted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce-Energy Environmental Review and Analysis Staff and U.S. Department of Energy.”

The Draft EIS from the U.S. side of the project identifies a number of border crossing variations, with Manitoba Hydro saying it can only support the agreed-upon border crossing known as the Proposed Border Crossing-Blue/Orange Route in the Draft EIS and noted as the MH Preferred Border Crossing and shown as a light blue area on the attached map. Manitoba Hydro said it completed a robust, transparent comparative analysis of routes and all potential border crossings using a process based on the EPRI-GTC Overhead Electric Transmission Line Siting Methodology. This process:

  • Evaluated numerous social, technical and environmental factors, similar to those criteria identified in the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission routing and siting regulations (such as land use, human settlement, agriculture, forestry, cultural and historic resources, wildlife, rare species, water resources, noise, air quality, health and safety, engineering constraints, etc.);
  • Incorporated routing preferences (that is, a weighting of the routing criteria) based on discussions with internal and external stakeholders; and
  • Used this data to identify and rank potential border crossings and routes.

Using this methodology, Manitoba Hydro determined that the Piney East Border crossing (MH Former Border Crossing shown in light grey on the attached map) which encompassed Border Crossing Hwy 310 Variation, was not a feasible border crossing for a variety of compelling reasons. These included the fact that routes to this crossing traverse areas of high biological diversity that had been noted by government agencies and environmental non-government organizations. Furthermore, this area on the Canadian side of the border is primarily composed of Crown (public) lands, which support traditional Aboriginal use and First Nations noted significant concerns in regards to route alternatives in this area. Border Crossing 500 kV Variation and the Border Crossing 230 kV Variation were outside of the agreed upon border crossing and thus were not analyzed but would pose many of the same challenges.

“Based on our environmental analysis and public, First Nations and Métis engagement processes, in consultation with Minnesota Power, the Proposed Border Crossing-Blue/Orange Route was selected as the preferred end point for each entity,” the Canadian utility wrote. “While other border crossings were favored by each entity, the Proposed Border Crossing–Blue/Orange route was jointly selected because it balances environmental, technical, and stakeholder impacts on both sides of the border.

“The preferred route and border crossing were presented as part of a third round of our engagement processes earlier this year. With the feedback received and through the environmental review work being undertaken, Manitoba Hydro determined the final placement of the transmission line and will submit an environmental impact statement to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. An application will also be filed with the National Energy Board in September. Manitoba Hydro does not have routes that connect to the border crossing variations included in the Draft EIS. Our application will only include the Proposed Border Crossing-Blue/Orange Route location developed and agreed upon by Manitoba Hydro and Minnesota Power.

“Manitoba Hydro and Minnesota Power have made a business commitment to have the Project in service by June 2020. Selection of a border crossing location that does not align with our border crossing and route jeopardizes this commitment and the Project.”

The Minnesota commission on June 30 approved an October 2013 application from Minnesota Power for a certificate of need for the Great Northern Transmission Line Project, which will run from the U.S./Canadian border to the applicant’s Blackberry Substation in Grand Rapids, Minn. The approximately 220-mile, 500-kV project is to be located in Beltrami, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, and Roseau counties.

Said the June EIS about Minnesota Power’s need for this project: “The Applicant’s proposal is primarily driven by three factors: 1) the opportunity to access new hydroelectric generating capacity in Manitoba, 2) projected electricity shortages in their service territory and across the region by 2020, and 3) the potential to use hydroelectric power to complement the Applicant’s wind energy investments in North Dakota. The Applicant has a 250 MW power purchase agreement with Manitoba Hydro. The proposed Project would permit Manitoba Hydro, which has been supplying power to the regional grid since 1970, to transmit approximately 883 megawatt (MW) of additional power to Minnesota.”

The EIS added: “Based on current information, the estimated cost of the total proposed Project is between $495.5 and $647.7 million. The cost for routine operation and maintenance typically ranges from $1,100 to $1,600 per mile, so the annual costs would range from $242,000 to $352,000 for the 220-mile transmission line. Construction is projected to begin in October 2016, and the projected in-service date is June 2020.”

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.