Minnesota PUC may vote Feb. 26 on Great Northern grid project of Minnesota Power

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission may at its Feb. 26 meeting cap a nearly two-year-long review with a decision on Minnesota Power‘s end of a transmission line that would cross into Canada and allow Minnesota Power to wheel hydroelectric power from Manitoba Hydro into its system.

A Feb. 19 briefing memo from commission staff said the questions commissioners will be asked to answer at the Feb. 26 meeting are:

  • Should the commission find that the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) is adequate?
  • Should the commission adopt the Administrative Law Judge’s Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation?
  • Should the commission issue a route permit to Minnesota Power identifying a specific route and permit conditions for the Great Northern High Voltage Transmission Line Project in Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Beltrami, Koochiching and Itasca counties?

Minnesota Power has proposed to construct an approximately 220-mile-long, 500-kV overhead single-circuit alternating transmission line that would cross the international border in Roseau County, and depending on final route, would be located in Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Beltrami, Koochiching and Itasca counties. The project includes construction of associated substation facilities, a 500 kV series compensation station and a proposed Iron Range 500 kV Substation located adjacent to Minnesota Power’s existing Blackberry Substation near Grand Rapids in Itasca County.

The project is part of a new 500 kV international transmission interconnection between Manitoba, Canada, and the United States. Manitoba Hydro will be constructing the Canadian portion of this new international interconnection. The intended purpose of the line is to provide delivery of, and access to, power generated by Manitoba Hydro from hydroelectric stations in Manitoba in order to fulfill Minnesota Power’s power purchase agreements with Manitoba Hydro, to meet regional energy demand, to strengthen system reliability and to increase the applicant’s generation diversity and renewable portfolio.

Once completed, the project is expected to provide approximately 883 MW of transfer capability. Minnesota Power intends to begin construction on the project in 2017 and complete construction in 2020. Minnesota Power estimated that the project costs are between $557.9 million and $710.1 million in 2013 dollars.

Minnesota Power filed its application with the commission for a route permit for the Great Northern High-Voltage Transmission Line in April 2014. Also in April 2014, Minnesota Power applied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a Presidential permit to cross the U.S./Canadian border in Roseau County. DOE acts as federal joint lead agency with the Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (DOC-EERA) acting as state joint lead agency under applicable federal regulations and Minnesota law. DOE and DOC-EERA elected to prepare a single environmental impact statement for the project in order to provide process efficiencies and avoid duplication in environmental review procedures.

In June 2015, the Government of Manitoba submitted a letter describing the Canadian federal and Manitoba provincial legal regime and regulatory processes for authorizing an international transmission line. The letter concluded that any decision by the Minnesota commission that would require a border crossing other than the proposed border crossing would necessitate significant new studies to address the change in route to a different border crossing as part of the regulatory process in Canada. Manitoba Hydro concluded that it would be very unlikely that the necessary studies and the regulatory process would be completed in time to meet the proposed 2020 in-service date as per the agreements between Manitoba Hydro and Minnesota Power; and therefore additional regulatory requirements associated with relocating the international border crossing would effectively jeopardize the project.

Entities such as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and other regional utilities recognize the benefits associated with the project and with Minnesota Power’s preferred route, the memo noted.

Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward resource strategy that anticipated hydroelectric resources additions was approved by the commission in September 2013 as part of Minnesota Power’s 2013 Resource Plan. Two Power Purchase Agreements for purchase of hydroelectric power from Manitoba Hydro have been reviewed and approved by the commission.

The Jan. 4 ALJ report included these conclusions and recommendations:

  • All procedure requirements under rule and law for issuance of the permit were met.
  • That the FEIS is adequate for use by the commission in this proceeding.
  • The evidence in the record demonstrates that, overall, the Blue Route best satisfies the route permit criteria set forth in state statute for all areas except in the Effie Variation Area in the project’s East Section. In that area, the Effie Variation, including the East Bear Lake Variation, better meet the route permit criteria set forth in Minnesota rule and law.
  • The ALJ recommended that the commission select the proposed Blue Route for all portions of the route except for the Effie Variation Area. In the Effie Variation Area, the commission should select the Effie Variation, which includes the East Bear Lake Variation.
  • The ALJ recommended that the commission select the Trout Lake Alignment Modification so as to minimize the impact of the Blue Route on residences in that alignment area. Other alignment modifications should be considered during the Plan and Profile process.
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.