Oklahoma Wind enegy project long time coming, long ways to go

Source: By ROD WALTON, World Business Editor, Tulsa World • Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Work on transmission line could begin next year

Patience is both a virtue and professional necessity for Michael Skelly.

More than five years ago, the CEO of Clean Line Energy Partners LP and his company began the process to eventually build something called the Plains and Eastern Clean Line. The project will be a 700-mile, 600-kilovolt, direct current transmission line bringing wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas and Kansas to electricity utilities in Arkansas and Tennessee.

If all goes as planned, construction on the $2 billion Clean Line will begin next year and be operational by 2018.

“It’ll be closer to 10 years soup to nuts,” Skelly said in a recent interview at the Tulsa World office. “We knew this was a long-term undertaking.”

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line cleared a major hurdle late last year when the U.S. Department of Energy released the draft environmental impact statement about the project’s preferred route. Any Oklahomans curious about the project or wanting to challenge it can attend the DOE’s public meetings beginning Monday in Woodward.

Other meetings will be Tuesday in Guymon, Wednesday in Beaver, Feb. 2 in Muskogee, Feb. 3 in Cushing, Feb. 4 in Stillwater and Feb. 5 in Enid. All of the meetings will run from 5 to 8 each night.

Wind-energy proponents hail the Clean Line as a major infrastructure victory if and when it’s up and running. Opponents have brought up environmental, wildlife and land-rights concerns along the way.

All of them can have their say at the Energy Department meetings.

“People can weigh in and say they should do this or don’t do that,” Skelly pointed out.

If approved and built, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line will offer a market route for new wind farms in the three-state corner. Clean Line will move about 4,000 megawatts of renewable power eastward, with about 500 megawatts delivered to a central Arkansas substation and the remainder to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Clean Line itself should create hundreds of jobs in Oklahoma. Claremore-based Pelco Structural LLC will provide the tubular towers used as part of the support system on the line route, a contract which will generate 100 jobs and gain a part of the $300 million allocated for tower structures.

Skelly predicted the Clean Line will spur another $5 billion in wind-farm construction. Many of those generation efforts are awaiting an infrastructure connection.

“We’re focusing on new-build (wind farms) and those who can’t build because they don’t have access to the grid,” he said. “The grid is maxed out.”

The state of Oklahoma’s wind expert, Kylah McNabb, agreed with Skelly that the project is needed to help wind-farm development find ways to market.

Oklahoma has about 3,200 megawatts of installed wind power capacity with another 2,061 megawatts under construction, according to McNabb, renewable energy specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

“The panhandle is the best wind resource in Oklahoma that does not have access to the grid,” McNabb said. “That’s what (Clean Line) is tapping into.”

One key opposition point questions the economic good of a project that takes an Oklahoma resource out of state and sells it. Clean Line is not helping the state’s energy needs, they say.

McNabb defended Clean Line as having the same purpose as an oil pipeline transporting Oklahoma crude to the Gulf Coast or other refining markets.

“I see it as a positive for the state,” she said. “We are able to reap the economic benefits of having an energy resource farmed right here in Oklahoma.”

Clean Line CEO Skelly also says the transmission system will pay about $20,000 per year in property taxes for every line mile. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line corridor runs an average 200 feet wide for its 700-mile length.

“We’ll also pay landowners payments for use easements,” he said.

The comment period for Clean Line’s draft environmental impact will conclude by March.