DULUTH — Minnesota Power and Great River Energy submitted key permit applications on Friday for a planned and jointly-owned $1 billion, 180-mile transmission line connecting central Minnesota to the Iron Range, kicking off a review by state regulators.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, a five-member board overseeing the state’s regulated utilities, will determine the transmission line’s final route and whether the project is needed and in the public interest. Minnesota Power officials expect that to take about 12-18 months.
Construction on the double-circuit 345-kilovolt transmission line stretching from Minnesota Power’s Iron Range Substation in Itasca County to Great River Energy’s Benton County Substation and then to a Great River Energy substation in Sherburne County is expected to begin in 2027 and the line could be operational by 2030.
Costs could range from $970 million to $1.3 billion.
The project, coined the Northland Reliability Project, and other major grid upgrades, are considered key in the transition away from coal-fired power plants and to renewables like wind and solar. Duluth-based Minnesota Power has provided 50% renewable energy since 2021 and expects to up that to at least 70% by 2030, while Great River Energy, which provides electricity to cooperatives across Minnesota, anticipates it will provide 90% carbon-free power by 2035.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s recent draft
National Transmission Needs Study
found there was a “pressing need for additional electric transmission infrastructure” to improve grid reliability and resilience.
“The clean energy transformation, evolving regional demand, and increasingly extreme weather events must all be accommodated by the future power grid,”
a summary of the study said.
“Significant transmission deployment is needed as soon as 2030 in the Plains, Midwest, and Texas regions.”
“We need to get moving,” Julie Pierce, vice president of strategy and planning at Minnesota Power, told the News Tribune on Friday,
Pierce said the PUC and others recognize the need to move quickly as transmission projects can take years to bring online.
“If we don’t get moving, the grid is not going to be ready for the additional wind and solar and other technologies that want to connect,” Pierce said.
project was one of 18 projects
totaling $10.3 billion approved by the region’s grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, in July 2022.
The costs to build the projects will be split among customers within MISO’s region, which covers 15 states and Manitoba.
Approximately 2% of the costs will fall to Minnesota Power, Pierce said. The PUC will separately review how the company recovers those costs, Minnesota Power said in its news release Friday.
About 85% of the project’s route will follow existing transmission lines.
However, the PUC could ultimately modify the transmission line’s route.
“There’s a lot of routing considerations that come into play,” said Jim Atkinson, manager of environmental and real estate at Minnesota Power. “And one of the biggest ones is the fact that the state of Minnesota really prefers — and it’s right in statute — that we co-locate with existing transmission to the extent possible.”
Of the 18 projects approved last year by MISO, the Northland Reliability Project is the first to begin this phase of regulatory review.
“The pace of change is upon us and we are laser-focused on getting this line built to ensure reliability for our members and customers in northern and central Minnesota,” Great River Energy’s Vice President and Chief Transmission Officer Priti Patel said in the release.