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Minnesota Power to increase line capacity

Upgrades would mean more wind energy from North Dakota

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Minnesota Power and its parent company, Allete, will soon be able to carry more wind energy to the region.

Minnesota Power’s direct current transmission line, stretching 465 miles from Center, N.D. to Duluth, will undergo a “modernization” in the next few years that will boost its capacity from 550 to 750 megawatts company officials announced Tuesday morning during Allete’s annual shareholders meeting in Duluth.

The transmission line already carries energy produced at Minnesota Power’s Bison Wind Energy Center in western North Dakota, which has expanded its capacity to 500 megawatts since the wind farm went online in 2012.

“It will be able to deliver more energy to customers, creating more opportunities for us,” Brad Oachs, Allete’s senior vice president and president of regulated operations, said of the transmission line upgrade in his presentation to shareholders.

Julie Pierce, vice president of strategy and planning at Minnesota Power, said as the demand for wind from North Dakota increases, infrastructure needs to catch up.

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“We’re limited on how many transmission lines are available to transfer energy from wind-rich North Dakota to other parts of the country,” Pierce said.

Pierce said the company is still in the engineering phase of the project, but the upgrade could be completed by the mid-2020s. Pierce said the project could cost about $240 million based on the latest estimates.

Most of the upgrades would take place at the converter stations at each end of the transmission line, Pierce said.

Allete’s shareholder meeting highlighted the company’s push for more renewable resources.

Not long ago, only five percent of Minnesota Power’s energy came from renewable sources, but that’s increased to 30 percent today. By 2025, the company expects to reach 45 percent.

Built in the 1970s by Minnesota Power and Minnkota Power Cooperative, the transmission line first carried energy produced by a coal-burning plant in North Dakota.

Recognizing North Dakota’s ability to also produce wind, Minnesota Power fully purchased the transmission line in 2009, and by 2012, wind energy produced at its Bison Wind Energy Center was moving on the line.

Oachs said that purchase was a catalyst to the company’s renewable energy push.

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“When I look back now, the transmission line purchase was a key move to transition away from coal and to wind power,” Oachs said. “It continues to serve customers as well.”

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