Industry urges Moniz to support transmission line connecting Okla. to the Southeast

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014

Renewable energy developers and wind industry groups yesterday voiced their support for a proposed $2 billion, 700-mile transmission line project in a series of letters to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, the project would funnel 3,500 megawatts of the Oklahoma Panhandle’s wind wealth to energy buyers in Arkansas, Tennessee and population centers in other Southeastern states. It is being developed by the Houston-based company Clean Line Energy.

With DOE’s partnership under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Clean Line would be able to harness the federal agency’s authority to acquire missing transmission right of way in Arkansas, where it was denied public utility status in 2011 (Greenwire, Oct. 28, 2011).

America’s windiest states lie in its Central Plains, a region sometimes called “flyover country” because of its distance from the East Coast’s big, energy-hungry cities. As a result, the development of new transmission infrastructure to carry wind energy across the nation has become a rallying point for the renewables industry.

“If the considerable wind and other renewable resources of the United States are to be utilized to meet our current and steadily increasing levels of demand in the future and new markets for these resources are to be found, this will require a significant amount of new transmission,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, in his letter to Moniz.

Kiernan said that at the end of 2013, more than 114 gigawatts of wind projects were waiting in transmission grid operators’ interconnection queues.

Hard work to get Ark. on board

Plains & Eastern Clean Line is one of two projects coming before DOE this year. The other is the TransWest Express Transmission Project, a 3,000-megawatt, 750-mile line that would run from Wyoming to California and the Southwest, under development by the Denver-based company TransWest Express LLC.

Clean Line anticipates the agency will issue a draft environmental impact statement for the Plains & Eastern project this fall and is hoping for a final EIS to be issued early next year. TransWest estimates that its final EIS will be issued this year.

According to Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly, both projects would be the largest overland transmission projects built in the United States in the last three decades.

“We’re going to increase U.S. wind supplies between these two projects by the order of 10 percent,” Skelly said. “That feels like an important decision.”

Both use high-voltage, direct-current (DC) lines, which can move large amounts of power over long distances. Skelly added that direct current also has less impact than traditional alternating-current systems: “From a right-of-way perspective and land-use perspective, DC has a smaller footprint.”

However, some landowners along the transmission line’s proposed routes are concerned about Clean Line’s potential use of eminent domain if it gains DOE’s support. Local groups like Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy are attempting to drive public opposition to the project. The company has faced similar hurdles with its other planned transmission projects in the Midwest (ClimateWire, Oct. 2, 2012).

Skelly said Clean Line is doing “a huge amount of public outreach” to garner residents’ support, adding that the company is also purchasing all its wire from Arkansas-based company General Cable.

Clean Line is also proposing to deliver 500 megawatts to a converter station in the central part of the state. The Arkansas Public Service Commission turned the project down in 2011 because the company then had no plans to serve the state’s customers.

“We believe it’s important that the project be beneficial to Arkansas,” Skelly said.