Minnesota Power marks the release of final EIS for transmission line to Canada

Minnesota Power announced Nov. 2 that the U.S. Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) have issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Great Northern Transmission Line (GNTL).

The issuance of the FEIS concludes the successful review of the project’s environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act and clears the way for a route permit decision by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) in early 2016, the utility noted. DOE’s proposed action is the issuance of a Presidential Permit that would authorize Minnesota Power to construct, operate and maintain the 883-MW line, which would cross the Canadian-U.S. international border.

Minnesota Power is a utility division of ALLETE (NYSE:ALE).

The Great Northern Transmission Line will be a 500-kV, 220-mile line that will run from the Canadian-U.S. border northwest of Roseau, Minn., to an expanded Blackberry electric substation east of Grand Rapids, Minn. The line will be used to deliver hydroelectric power purchased from Manitoba Hydro to serve Minnesota Power’s customers and the region.

This transmission line is a critical component of Minnesota Power’s EnergyFoward strategy to reduce carbon emissions and assure continued reliability and affordable rates while diversifying its energy portfolio to a one-third renewable, one-third coal and one-third natural gas energy mix. That involves shutdown of some of the U.S. utility’s coal-fired capacity.

On the Canadian side, on Sept. 23, Manitoba Hydro filed its environmental documents and final preferred route with provincial regulators as part of the process for securing a license for the transmission line in Manitoba.

The transmission line’s FEIS is the result of intensive review and analysis, an effort launched by the DOE and DOC in July 2014 with scoping meetings. A draft Environmental Impact Statement was released in June 2015. Agencies formally cooperating with the DOE and DOC were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are extremely satisfied that, after almost two years of comprehensive agency review and many years of voluntary stakeholder engagement by Minnesota Power, the Department of Energy and Minnesota Department of Commerce have released the Final Environmental Impact Statement,” said Minnesota Power Chief Operating Officer Brad Oachs.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan, members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, sent a letter of support for the project to U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz where they stated: “we write to express our support for the successful collaborative public outreach effort by the project sponsor that was critical to the development of a consensus plan for the preferred location of the line’s international border crossing.”

Noted the final EIS: “The Applicant has a 250 MW power purchase agreement with Manitoba Hydro. In addition, the Applicant and Manitoba Hydro also recently finalized the critical commercial terms for an additional 133 MW ‘Renewable Optimization Agreement’ that was approved by the [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] on January 30, 2015 (MN PUC Docket No. E015/M-14-960). The proposed Project would be able to transmit enough capacity to meet the Applicant’s 383 MW requirements as well as an additional 500 MW, up to a total of 883 MW.”

Based on current information, the estimated cost of the total proposed project is between $558 million and $710 million, the final EIS said. 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 2017, with an in-service date in June 2020.

Minnesota Power provides electric service within a 26,000-square-mile area in northeastern Minnesota, supporting comfort, security and quality of life for 144,000 customers, 16 municipalities and some of the largest industrial customers in the United States.

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.