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Solutions
| 11/05/15

Power line would green Midwest grid using Manitoba hydro

TCE

Manitoba’s rivers are set to supply clean hydroelectric power to Minnesota’s energy system, after a proposed transmission line cleared a major hurdle this week.

The Great Northern Transmission Line passed its final environmental impact assessment performed by the US Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce on Monday. The line is set to run some 350 kilometres from the Canadian border northwest of Roseau, Minnesota to an expanded substation near Grand Rapids.

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

The state hopes to clean up what remains dirty on its power grid ahead of new federal 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 new transmission line will 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.

The proposed 500-kilovolt line is expected to be in service by 2020, and carries a price tag of between CDN$350 million. Manitoba Hydro has filed paperwork with provincial regulators to win a licence for the project.

The transmission line could also be good news for Minnesota Power’s wind farms in North Dakota, allowing excess energy to be imported back up the line into Canada.

“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 [provincial] energy markets don’t need it.”

The project seems to have encountered less opposition than another Canada-to-US power line. The Northern Pass project, from Quebec to New Hampshire, is being opposed by a number of conservation groups that argue it would adversely impact views of the region for hikers. Meanwhile, in September, the premiers of Canada’s five easternmost provinces met with the governors of six New England states to discuss transmission of hydroelectric power to the region.

The Minnesota line again highlights one of the ironies of Canadian energy infrastructure and politics. While clean, non-intermittent hydroelectric power originating north of the 49th Parallel is increasingly in demand by American states needing to switch to low-carbon electricity production in the wake of stringent new federal clean energy rules, Canada itself has no true east-west national grid of its own, a major barrier to greening the electricity systems of those provinces that depend on coal and other fossil sources. PICS for its part is working to investigate these challenges, notably via its 2060 Project, which is currently investigating a range of electrical grid integration options for Canada, initially between British Columbia and Alberta, but eventually nation-wide and into western North America.

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