Clean Line Sells Okla. Portion of Plains & Eastern to NextEra

Source: By Tom Kleckner, RTO Insider • Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Clean Line Energy Partners announced that it has sold all the assets of the Oklahoma portion of the multistate Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project to NextEra Energy for an undisclosed sum.

In a press release, Clean Line said the transaction would continue the “forward momentum” of the Plains & Eastern project and “install a new sponsor to a transmission solution to the burgeoning wind sector in Oklahoma” and SPP. Under the agreement, the company will retain its assets east of Oklahoma.

NextEra, which bills itself as the world’s largest generator of wind and solar energy, is the largest owner of wind generation in the Oklahoma, with 1.7 GW of operating capacity.

Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project Schematic | Clean Line Energy Partners

Clean Line spokesperson Sarah Bray told RTO Insider that while the Plains & Eastern’s goal is to “deliver low-cost renewable energy … to communities where there is substantial demand,” the market has evolved and eastern Oklahoma “now presents a strong delivery point for Plains & Eastern.” Alluding to NextEra’s financial strength and operational capabilities, Bray said, “We believe that they are the right owner to take the project over the finish line.”

Officials from the two companies have not disclosed the transaction’s terms, though it apparently includes the transfer of the “significant portion” of the Oklahoma right of way Clean Line has already acquired.

The Plains & Eastern is a proposed 720-mile HVDC transmission project that would move 4 GW of wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle through Arkansas to Memphis, Tenn., with a 500-MW drop-off in Arkansas. Clean Line has been involved in commercial negotiations with potential customers, both wind generators and load-serving entities seeking power.

Clean Line has said the project’s construction would begin once developers have contracts for 2 GW of capacity.

The project has been under development for eight years and has regulatory approvals from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. The U.S. Department of Energy issued a “record of decision” in 2016 after nearly six years of study and evaluation, saying it would participate in the project’s development under Section 1222 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. (See DOE Agrees to Join Clean Line’s Plains & Eastern Project.)

However, Clean Line has yet to receive a go-ahead from regulators in Arkansas, where the project has met stiff resistance from landowners and the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation. The lawmakers in March asked Energy Secretary Rick Perry to “preserve states’ rights” and reverse the department’s decision to partner on the project. They also are sponsoring a bill that that would prevent DOE from using eminent domain for Section 1222 transmission projects without the approval of both the governors and utility commissions of affected states.

But on Thursday, a federal judge in Arkansas rejected a lawsuit by two landowner groups challenging the department’s authority to partner with Clean Line. In his order, Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas overruled Downwind LLC and Golden Bridge LLC’s contention that the federal government exceeded its authority and denied landowners a chance to participate in the process.

“In the circumstances presented, Arkansas doesn’t get to decide where the transmission line is located,” Marshall wrote. “And the state doesn’t have a veto over whether this line gets built.”

Clean Line Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado applauded the decision.

“This critical decision confirms the strong legal basis for the Department of Energy’s decision to participate in the Plains & Eastern project, and keeps the door open for future infrastructure projects and the use of Section 1222,” he said.