Power Line Would Green Midwest Grid Using Manitoba Hydro

Freight Hellicopter Installing High Voltage Towers

By Jonny Wakefield

November 5, 2015

A transmission line that would supply power from Manitoba’s rivers to customers in Minnesota cleared a major hurdle this week.

The Great Northern Transmission Line has been issued a final environmental impact statement by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The line would run from the Canadian border northwest of Roseau, Minn. to an expanded substation near Grand Rapids, Minn.

The line is a key to diversifying Minnesota’s relatively carbon-heavy energy grid. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, 46 per cent of power generated in Minnesota in 2013 came from coal-fired power plants, while a pair of nuclear power plants accounted for 21 per cent. However, the state ranks seventh in the U.S. in wind power production.

The state hopes to clean up its power grid ahead of new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The recently announced Clean Power Plan will require states to cut emissions by an average of 32 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

At the same time, the line would allow for an expansion of industrial activity in the state’s Iron Range. The region, in the state’s northeast, has seen a resurgence in mining after a period of dormancy.

If given final approval, the transmission project is expected to be in service by 2020.

The proposed 500-kilovolt line will be roughly 350 kilometres long, with a price tag of between $500 and $650 million. Manitoba Hydro has filed paperwork with provincial regulators to get a licence for the project.

The transmission line could be good news for wind production in Manitoba.

“The Great Northern Line enhances a unique synergy involving hydropower and wind,” Minnesota Power chief operating officer Brad Ochs told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, adding that new transmission capacity “more readily allows the Manitoba Hydro system to store intermittent wind generation during times when energy markets don’t need it.”

The project seems to have encountered less opposition than another Canada-to-U.S. power line. The Northern Pass project, from Quebec to New Hampshire, is being opposed by a number of conservation groups over concerns about its right-of-way.