Minnesota Power scores final needed approval for Great Northern grid project

Minnesota Power said Nov. 16 that its Great Northern Transmission Line received federal approval that same day when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Presidential Permit for this power line into Canada that will allow the utility to wheel in hydropower from Manitoba Hydro.

The Presidential Permit is the final major regulatory approval needed before construction can begin. It is required because the transmission line will cross the international border between Manitoba and Minnesota and connect with Manitoba Hydro’s companion Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project, which picks up at the international border and connects into the Manitoba Hydro system.

The DOE issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project in October 2015. The Presidential Permit approval is the final step in a four-year process that included comprehensive agency review and voluntary community engagement by Minnesota Power, a utility company of ALLETE Inc. (NYSE: ALE).

“I would like to thank Congressman Rick Nolan, Congressman Collin Peterson, Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and the Red Lake Nation for their strong support of the project and advocacy to the DOE,” said ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik. “These informed and active partners were key to reaching final federal approval of this clean energy milestone.”

Hodnik added: “The Great Northern Transmission Line is a crucial link in Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward strategy of balancing renewable and traditional energy sources. Minnesota Power already has exceeded Minnesota’s 25 percent renewable standard, and is well-positioned to meet future decreased carbon emissions goals."

Construction is expected to begin in early 2017 on the 500-kV line that will deliver 383 MW of renewable hydropower purchased from Manitoba Hydro to Minnesota Power’s customers beginning in 2020.

“Minnesota Power’s early work with landowners, community members, and tribal and government representatives paved the way to this permit. Through extensive meetings with stakeholders and open houses, the project development process led to the best route,” said Brad Oachs, Minnesota Power chief operating officer.

The Great Northern Transmission Line will optimize and balance the renewable resources of wind and hydropower by creating synergy between Minnesota Power’s 500-MW wind farm in North Dakota and Manitoba Hydro’s system of dams and reservoirs in Canada. Under power purchase agreements between the two companies and approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Manitoba Hydro can reduce the flow of water through its hydro generators when there is excess wind power from Minnesota Power’s North Dakota wind farm. When winds are light or calm, Manitoba Hydro can release more water—stored while the wind was blowing—through its dams and increase its hydropower production.

The approved 224-mile route will cross the border between the U.S. and Canada in Roseau County in northern Minnesota, about three miles east of Minnesota Highway 89. The line will run to an expanded Blackberry electric substation east of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The route passes through Roseau, Lake of the Woods, and Koochiching and Itasca counties in Minnesota and largely follows Minnesota Power’s preferred route, including the critical international border crossing.

Minnesota Power estimates the total cost of the project will be between $560 million and $710 million, with the company’s portion of the cost estimated between $300 million and #350 million.

Minnesota Power provides electric service within a 26,000-square-mile area in Northeastern Minnesota.

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.