Clean Line/Sabre announce manufacturing pact

Source: By Loren G. Flaugh, Correspondent, Cherokee Chronicle Times • Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SIOUX CITY – Houston, Texas-based energy transmission company Clean Line Energy Partners and its subsidiary, Rock Island Clean Line, announced here last week a pact whereby Sabre Industries would be the preferred supplier of massive power poles for the proposed Rock Island high voltage direct current (HVDC) power line from O’Brien County in NW Iowa to the 765 kV AC Commonwealth Edison substation in Grundy County, Ill

At an event held on a snowy, icy morning at Sabre’s new 192,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art steel fabrication facility, officials from Clean Line, Sabre, Sioux City, and Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, explained the scope of the estimated $2 billion, 600 kV, 3,500 megawatt (MW) HVDC project. The economic impact for the Sioux City area, NW Iowa, Iowa and Illinois, is huge.

Rock Island project development director, Hans Detweiler, welcomed an estimated 50 government officials and other dignitaries who braved Mother Nature’s elements to attend this recent project milestone. Initially proposed in 2010, the Rock Island development team is now into the 4th year of developing their innovative, high-capacity renewable energy transmission project.

The project received its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval notice in May of 2012. Rock Island is now in the process of acquiring landowner right-of-way easement agreements, gaining approvals from the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and another from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), which could both happen by late 2014 or 2015. Project construction could begin sometime in 2015, Rock Island officials indicate. Energizing the power line could follow in 2018.

The last regulating agency where approval is required is the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), one of seven regional transmission operators (RTOs) in the U.S.

Detweiler said via recent email, “We expect results from the MISO No Harm Study the first half of this year depending on a number of factors, including input from affected utilities and study results from other RTOs.”

Additional Detweiler information indicates that Rock Island must secure landowner right-of-way easement agreements for more than 400 parcels of land in Illinois In Iowa, the number of parcels the 500-mile overhead power line crosses involves more than 1,500. The Illinois easement acquisition process started well before the project team was legally able to start negotiating with Iowa landowners due to the length of time needed to determine their preferred route.

One goal asserted during last week’s ceremony shows how Rock Island is committed to maximizing the sourcing of products and services from manufacturers and contractors within the state. Perhaps Sabre’s selection bears that out. Sabre said it will establish a supplier base from within the Iowa/ Illinois project area to supply as much raw material as possible from local companies.

The Rock Island project will tap into only a small portion of the wind energy potential from NW Iowa, Detweiler noted in his introductory remarks.

Detweiler introduced Sabre’s President, Chief Executive Officer Peter J. Sandore. Sandore briefly discussed how the one-year old facility came together. Sandore said the business decision to build this facility in Sioux City came from Sabre’s monitoring of proposed new high voltage transmission line expansion projects throughout the Midwest.

With a timely investment of well over $20 million, the facility is now just over a year old. That figure doesn’t include the cost for the high-tech metal fabricating equipment and wire-welding equipment located throughout the mammoth building. Sandore said between the two Sioux City Sabre facilities, they now employ about 500 people.

Sandore stated, “Sabre Industries recognizes the tremendous benefits that the Rock Island Clean Line will bring to NW Iowa and is proud to collaborate with them to continue Iowa’s tradition of providing quality manufacturing. By utilizing local suppliers, we will further their commitment to providing economic growth to our state.”

Detweiler introduced President, Clean Line Energy Partners Michael Skelly. Skelly commented on Sabre’s state-of-the-art facility and how it compared to other steel fabrication facilities he’s visited related to Clean Line’s three other HVDC projects. Skelly said, “Sabre’s might be the best.”

Prior to the event, Skelly had visited with Iowa Economic Development Authority Chair and co-owner of State Steel Supply Company, David Bernstein of Sioux City. While visiting, Bernstein had explained to Skelly how a Spencer, Iowa scrap metals company, Shine Brothers, melts down scrap metal it buys, turns it into steel plate and ships some to Sabre’s Sioux City facility.

Skelly said, “Clean Line Energy is pleased to work with Sabre Industries on the Rock Island Clean Line project. The agreement with Sabre will help make Iowa a leader in transmission infrastructure manufacturing and will support a cleaner energy future.

“We are confident in what we are doing and believe in what we are doing. But there are many, many people who are saying, ‘Okay, this is a great idea.’ But we understand that development of infrastructure will have bumps and grinds along the way. These are not easy projects to do. If they were easy, then they would’ve been done by now,” said Skelly.

Skelly then introduced the final speaker, Debi Durham. Durham began her remarks by reviewing Iowa’s current wind energy capabilities. “We rank 3rd in the nation in current installed wind capacity with 5,133 MW. And that doesn’t even begin to count the recent MidAmerican Energy announcement to invest over a billion dollars in new wind energy.

“Iowa is 1st in wind generation as a percentage of total power output with 24.5 %. With wind power in Iowa capable of meeting more than 44 times the state’s current electricity needs, it’s no surprise that wind is big business here. But more importantly though, these leadership positions helps us power the nation and moves us towards the grid of the future,” Durham stated.

“And this is just another example of how Iowa has leveraged its legacy of manufacturing excellence to build a cluster of wind component companies. We rank 3rd in the nation with the number of wind energy related jobs in our great state.”

Durham then transitioned towards her conclusion. “That leads us to the delivery of wind energy and that’s where Rock Island Clean Line comes in. This partnership between Clean Line and Sabre gives us an opportunity for Iowa to capitalize on the clean energy economy and deliver a new cash crop to market,” Durham emphatically noted. “Because of this agreement, we can now add wind to the list of Iowa exports.”

A separate follow-up story will delve into the potential financial cost estimates of building 2,000 to 3,000 poles, and a detailed one-on-one interview with Sabre President Sandore where he said, “This contract could be one of the largest contracts for power pole manufacturing that Sabre has ever received. Yes, 500 miles is a very large project.”