Projects on the Horizon

Laurentian Energy Plant

Northeastern Minnesota is a land rich in natural resources, but what is the most feasible, environmentally responsible way to capitalize on them? One answer is a clean energy plant.

Manmade lakes, created by taconite mining and the natural topography of the Iron Range, provide an opportunity to combine wind, pump storage and hydroelectricity to produce clean, renewable energy.

The Laurentian Energy Plant project provides dependable renewable energy with no air pollution,  helps meet the land and water-management objectives of organizations like the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Central Iron Range Planning Commission, and stimulates the economy by providing long term, high technology industrial development and employment. Proximity to existing transmission and distribution infrastructure adds flexibility in delivering competitively priced energy to either the local Hibbing area or larger markets in Southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. The project could also help local power companies like Hibbing Public Utilities or Minnesota Power meet renewable energy objectives.

About Wind Energy

Wind power+ pump storage + hydroelectricity = Clean, safe energy on demand:  Wind power is a growing industry, and Minnesota has wind-power turbines set on towers and clustered in groups called "farms", dotting the rural landscape. Last year, 1700 MW of wind power were installed nationwide, supplying enough energy for 425,000 homes.  However, wind has long been viewed as a relatively unpredictable and somewhat unreliable energy source compared to fossil-fuels, in part because it is difficult to match the supply of wind energy with demand. The wind does not always blow when you need it or want it to.

About Pump Storage & Hydroelectric Power

Pump storage and hydroelectric power provide a means of making wind energy a more dependable source by storing wind energy as potential water energy.  Pump storage creates hydroelectric power by first moving supplies of water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir and converting kinetic energy from the pump into potential energy of water stored at a higher elevation.  When water stored in reservoirs at higher elevation flows to reservoirs at lower elevation, the potential energy of the water is released as kinetic energy through a steel pipe (called a penstock) and into the hydroturbine to spin impellers that create electricity. This process can generate electric power as needed with output matched to demand. Because pump storage is a closed loop system with water transferred only between upper and lower reservoirs, it does not have the same negative environmental impacts on watersheds, wildlife and communities that traditional large scale hydro plants located on rivers have had. Wind+Pump Storage+Hydro is environmentally friendly and renewable in a very true sense.

Click here to view a diagram of combined wind power and pumped storage.

What would the project look like?  The proposed project could best be described as an "energy park" hosting wind and hydro energy. The proposed project would involve many one- to two-megawatt wind turbines standing 65 to 80 m tall, located on the high ridges of the Laurentian Divide and supplying electricity either directly to the transmission grid or to a series of large pumps. When energy from wind is not in demand (typically during low use periods), the pumps would have the capability of moving large volumes of water through a supply line between the lower and upper reservoir.  At the upper reservoir, an intake would control the level of the reservoir and the flow of water into a penstock.  When the gates of the intake are open, water is carried by the penstock down to the power house, which contains the hydro turbines. While only two mine pits will be used in the first phase, other pits nearby and a large mine-tailings basin could be used to expand the project over time to form a chain of reservoirs. The project could potentially supply several hundred megawatts of energy, equivalent to a single coal fired power plant.

Contact:          Jim Kochevar
Manager, PUC