On a day the Selinger government named a new Manitoba Hydro chairman and six new board members to the province's biggest Crown corporation, a Minnesota utility launched the process of building a huge transmission line from Winnipeg to deliver power to their customers and beyond.
The proposal by Minnesota Power for the 500 kilovolt line -- more than double the load first planned -- will extend to Duluth and connect to a line to Wisconsin by 2020.
"It means we'll have increased export capability into the United States," Manitoba Hydro president and chief executive officer Bob Brennan said Thursday.
"They're looking at an in-service date of 2020. That way we have another option for the power coming out of Keeyask."
Minnesota Power originally wanted to build a 230 kV line, spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said.
"When we look at this, if we're going to site, plan, develop and build a transmission line in northeastern Minnesota, it makes sense to build it not just for Minnesota Power's customers, but the needs of the region," Rutledge said.
That includes new mining and other industrial projects that will require a reliable supply of electricity, she said.
"We think this larger line will support that and will shore up regional reliability in general."
The larger line is possible because of Minnesota Power's deal with Manitoba Hydro to buy 250 megawatts over 15 years starting in 2020, she said.
The province says the deal is worth $1 billion to the province, with the construction of the 695 megawatt, $5.6-billion Keeyask generating station. The Minnesota state regulator approved the power purchase agreement last month.
The new transmission line from Manitoba would first go to the Mesabi Iron Range in the northeastern part of Minnesota, one of the world's largest iron ore mining regions in the world, Rutledge said.
Rutledge said the new line will be built in phases: Manitoba Hydro will be responsible for building the line from outside Winnipeg to the U.S. border, and Minnesota Power will be responsible for building the line 340 kilometres to the iron range.
The third phase could see Minnesota Power and American Transmission Co. build a 345 kV line from the iron range to Duluth for service also in 2020. That line would connect into an already existing line into Wisconsin that would allow for the transmission of Manitoba-made power into that state.
Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service Corp. has also signed deals with Manitoba Hydro to import hydroelectric power from new dams.
A new law in Wisconsin recognizes large hydroelectric dams, including new dams in Manitoba's north, as a renewable energy source to help meet the state's green-energy mandate. It says by 2015, 10 per cent of all power sold by state utilities must come from a renewable source.
Rutledge said a proposed route and estimated cost for the new line has not been determined. All Minnesota Power has filed to the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) is its intent to pursue the project. MISO manages the electrical grid in 11 states and Manitoba.
Manitoba Hydro's new board
Bill Fraser is the new board chairman of Manitoba Hydro. Fraser is the vice-chairman of the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation board and former president of Manitoba Telecom Services. He has served on the Manitoba Hydro board since 2006. He replaces Vic Schroeder.
The six new board members are: David Crate, chief of the Fisher River Cree Nation; Tina Keeper, actress and former Liberal Churchill MP; Eugene Kostyra, former Manitoba finance minister; Dudley Thompson, principal architect of Prairie Architects; Larry Vickar, president of Vickar Community Chevrolet and head of Vickar Automotive Group; and Frank Whitehead, NDP MLA for The Pas.
The remaining board members are: James Husiak, a chartered accountant with the Exchange Group; John Loxley, professor of economics at University of Manitoba; Michael Spence, mayor of Churchill; and Leslie Turnbull, a partner in Viewpoints Research.