- Minnesota's second largest investor-owned utility on Thursday energized its 224-mile transmission line that will bring the utility to 50% renewable energy in 2021.
- The $700 million, 500 kV line brings 250 MW of hydropower from Manitoba, Canada, to Minnesota Power customers in Northern Minnesota. The utility doesn't have a set clean energy goal beyond its 50% by 2021 aim, but is in the process of revising its 15 year integrated resource plan, a spokesperson told Utility Dive.
- "They have been working really hard to transition their fleet," Mike Bull, policy director for the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment told Utility Dive of Minnesota Power. But "things get harder from here," he said.
Renewable energy advocates and utility experts agree that transmission investments are essential in order to maximize the benefits of low-cost, carbon free energy.
In Massachusetts, developers are working toward development of a 145-mile transmission line poised to deliver the New England region 1,200 MW of hydropower from Quebec. And in May, Iowa regulators approved an over 100-miles long transmission to deliver wind power from Iowa to Wisconsin, though federal permits are still pending.
ALLETE subsidiary Minnesota Power's Great Northern Transmission line is the next step in its years-long power fleet transition, according to the utility, and will contribute to reliability as well as allow greater access to carbon-free power.
The line connects to Manitoba Hydro's recently completed Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project at the U.S./Canadian border and enables a "mechanism that quickly balances energy supply and demand in Minnesota and Manitoba" allowing more effective wind power use, according to the press release announcing the project's completion. The utility first filed permits for the project in 2014.
"This is such an incredible achievement for Minnesota Power, ALLETE, and our region, and is the culmination of a decade-long vision brought to life by our talented and dedicated employees," ALLETE President and CEO Bethany Owen said in a statement. "As part of our EnergyForward strategy, it also strengthens the grid across the Midwest and in Canada, enhancing reliability for all of our customers."
Minnesota Power in the early 2000s generated most of its power from coal, said Bull, but is now down to its last two units — Boswell Energy Center's 355 MW and 585 MW units 3 and 4, respectively. The utility also operates two 48 MW and 28.6 MW coal-plus-biomass power plants, 110 MW of natural gas, almost 120 MW of hydropower, over 500 MW of wind and 10 MW of solar.
But the utility's customer base is very industry-heavy, largely made up of mining companies across the iron ore range, making a rapid transition more complicated.
"There's a lot of stress on the range about what might happen next, with those last two units," said Bull. "Big employers are pressing them not to go much further with their transition anytime soon."
The utility is in the process of developing a 550 MW natural gas-fired plant in Superior, Wisconsin, which company executives have said is essential for system reliability if the utility wants to continue adding more renewable energy to its system.
But the plant's development is on hold as of now — a Minnesota Court of Appeals in December ruled state utility regulators need to go back and do an environmental review of the plant before development can proceed. Minnesota Power in January asked the Supreme Court of Minnesota to review the lower court's decision, arguing that because the project is sited in Wisconsin, it's not up to Minnesota regulators to do an environmental impact.
"It'd be the first time, as I understand it, that a Minnesota agency is needing to look at environmental impacts in another state," said Bull. "So it's sort of sitting somewhat in limbo as folks wait to hear what the Supreme Court has to say about that."