Minnesota's utilities commission approves cross-border hydroelectric power transmission line

Great Northern Transmission Line Map

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission gave its unanimous approval for the proposed Great Northern Transmission Line last week, largely clearing the way for the 500 kV connector that will allow for the import of Canadian hydroelectric power into the United States.

The 224-mile transmission line will help Minnesota Power augment its wind generation with hydropower purchased from Canada's Manitoba Hydro, per power purchase agreements approved by the utilities commission in 2012 and 2015.

The approved route represents the culmination of years' worth of agency reviews and stakeholder engagement by Minnesota Power given that the line generally requires a 200-foot-wide right-of-way with up to five structures per mile -- each of which will range from 100 to 170 feet in height depending on land type and use.

"The extensive outreach, including more than 75 meetings and open houses, was a critical part of the project development process," Minnesota Power Chief Operating Officer Brad Oachs said. "We also received an unprecedented level of local, state and federal involvement, including coordination with the U.S Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce in the route development, refinement and selection process that was critical to this important regulatory outcome."

The utility must still receive a presidential permit from DOE, though the company said it expects to receive that approval by the end of April. Manitoba Hydro is also waiting a license from Canada following its filing of environmental documents with provincial regulators last September.

Pending final approvals, work on the project is expected to begin in earnest in 2017, with completion by 2020. Minnesota Power needs the line to deliver at least 383 MW of power by June 1, 2020, under its agreement with Manitoba Hydro.

Minnesota Power -- a utility division of ALLETE Inc. -- will hold a 51% share in the transmission line, with Manitoba Hydro claiming the remainder.

Manitoba Hydro already exports to Minnesota utilities Xcel Energy and Great River Energy.

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