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Minnesota Power files for new transmission line

By John Myers

Forum News Service

DULUTH -- Minnesota Power has taken the next formal step to build a new 240-mile, high-voltage transmission line from the Manitoba border to the Iron Range.

The Duluth-based utility on Monday filed its “certificate of need” with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for the Great Northern Transmission Line, which would bring hydroelectric power from northern Manitoba into northeastern Minnesota.

The PUC ultimately will decide whether Minnesota Power’s project is needed by its customers and whether it’s cost-effective and compatible with state environmental policy, but that’s not expected to be a problem. The agency already has approved the utility’s plan to purchase the electricity from Manitoba Hydro.

A plan to extend the new transmission line from the Iron Range to Hermantown to service the Duluth areas has, at least for now, been dropped, Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman, said Tuesday. The utility would submit a separate request to the PUC if that line is revised.

Minnesota Power wants to increase its portfolio of renewable energy to satisfy any future increase in demand from new and expanded mines and to help in its transition to less coal-fired electricity. The utility says that hydro power complements its growing base of North Dakota wind-powered electricity because the hydro can continue to supply power at night when wind turbines often stop spinning.

The hydro system can “store” excess electricity from wind.

“The wind doesn’t always blow at times of peak electric demand,” Brad Oachs, Minnesota Power chief operating officer, said in a statement. “The Great Northern Transmission Line unlocks a powerful synergy between wind resources in the north-central U.S. and flexible Canadian hydropower in northern Manitoba.”

A few other hurdles remain as well, including approval of the U.S.-Canada border deal by the U.S. Department of Energy. The large dams that would harness the northern Manitoba rivers haven’t been built. Manitoba Hydro must build a transmission line for the dams to the Minnesota border.

The power line project, first unveiled in early 2012, would cost about $500 million.

The exact route of the power line hasn’t been determined but probably will follow existing utility routes from northwestern Minnesota to the Iron Range. Preferred routes should be unveiled early next year, with public input required.

If approved by regulators, Minnesota Power said it hopes to start construction in 2016, with the project taking nearly four years to complete. The utility said it hopes to have electricity flowing through the new power line by June 2020.

Minnesota Power will own 51 percent of the Great Northern Transmission Line, while a subsidiary of Manitoba Hydro will own 49 percent.

Alan R. Hodnik, president and chairman of Allete, Minnesota Power’s parent company, said the power line will help reduce the utility’s carbon footprint “while supporting planned industrial growth on Minnesota’s Iron Range.”

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