Editorial: Wind transmission proposal stands to benefit Oklahoma, workers

Source: By The Oklahoman Editorial Board • Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2015

MICHAEL Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, has fingers crossed that the U.S. Department of Energy will give the green light to his company’s plan to build a 720-mile, direct-current transmission line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tennessee. Oklahomans should hope this happens, too.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would take 4,000 megawatts of electricity — four Hoover Dams worth of energy, powered by roughly 2,000 wind turbines in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles — and ship it to utilities in the southeastern United States. Arkansas would snag 500 megawatts for utilities there.

This project has been nearly seven years in the making (“China puts lines in like this every three or four months,” Skelly said), and has involved “thousands of meetings with stakeholders.” If it becomes reality, Oklahoma will become the largest wind exporting state in the country.

The three-year construction project represents a $2.5 billion private investment that will benefit the country’s electric grid and stands to generate billions of dollars of investments in wind turbines in our Panhandle.

In addition, Houston-based Clean Line estimates the project will create thousands of construction jobs in Oklahoma, along with hundreds of direct permanent jobs to operate the wind farms and transmission lines.

The transmission line would cross 14 counties in Oklahoma and comprise more than 420 miles of the 720-mile route. Construction could begin by 2017 and be completed in three years. Clean Line estimates it will pay $35 million to Oklahoma landowners in easement and structure payments.

Skelly told The Oklahoman’s editorial board last month that the response by communities in the
Panhandle had been “extremely positive.” There is good reason to be receptive. In its final environmental impact statement, issued in early November, the Energy Department noted that in the first year of operation, Clean Line would pay about $13 million in ad valorem taxes to Oklahoma counties and towns. Those payments are to be made annually for as long as the line is in service. Texas County schools will benefit also from ad valorem revenue stemming from construction of a $250 million
converter station.

The Energy Department noted several areas of environmental impact, but none were widespread, and the agency said they could be managed during construction and operations.

The DOE is now analyzing the technical, financial and commercial aspects of the project. It’s “record of decision” is expected soon.

Clean Line also is hoping the department will decide to participate in the project under a 2005 federal law that lets the government be involved with transmission projects to relieve grid congestion or increase transmission capacity. That involvement is crucial in getting the transmission line moved through Arkansas.

This is a project that checks all the right boxes: It’s privately financed, it involves clean energy, it will add capacity to the nation’s energy grid, it will create jobs in Oklahoma, it will foster new wind energy investments, and communities will benefit from new tax revenue. Here’s hoping the federal government soon gives the final thumbs up needed to get this project off the ground and underway.