Opinion: Tennessee Valley Authority should get into wind power

Source: By Ed Wansing, The Tennessean • Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2017

At one time, our nation built big projects that benefited everyone.

The Tennessee Valley’s growth is a product of America’s greatest generation building big things. While some wonder if we’ll ever return to that bold vision, our region has another opportunity to set the stage for the next generation.

Now is the time for the Tennessee Valley Authority to sign up for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line wind power transmission project.

The Clean Line project would connect high-quality Oklahoma wind energy resources to the Tennessee Valley and beyond in what would become the largest clean energy infrastructure project in the country.

As wind turbine technology has advanced, wind power prices have plummeted. In the past six years, wind energy prices declined by more than 60 percent and have hit historic lows. Western Oklahoma contains some of the best wind energy resources in the country – some recent wind farms in the area generate electricity for less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

With high wind speeds, and plenty of farmers and ranchers clamoring to rent out space for wind farms on their private property, the biggest impediment to wind farm development is the limited infrastructure necessary to deliver this abundant power to utility purchasers.

To deliver low-cost wind power to the Southeast, a $300 million high voltage direct current converter station will be built near Memphis and deliver benefits locally, including increased local tax revenue, construction and permanent jobs, and possibly reduced electric rates.

The national significance of the Clean Line project cannot be overstated. The transmission line would deliver five times more power than the Hoover Dam from clean, renewable wind energy. The project’s aggregated 4,000 megawatts of wind power would be the largest power plant in the country – enough to power more than 1.5 million homes annually.

Utilities can buy wind energy and cut back usage on higher cost (and more polluting) power plants, and pass on lower rates to customers. Major companies like Google, Apple and Mars Inc. want low-cost renewable energy and are making decisions on where to site new locations based on its availability.

That’s why the Black Business Association of Memphis, Millington Area Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry support the Clean Line project. Recently, Clean Line Energy and GE Energy Connections announced a partnership to construct the new converter stations.

While the Tennessee Valley will benefit from purchasing a large quantity of wind power delivered on the Clean Line, other major electric companies throughout the southeast are also interested in low-cost wind power. Duke Energy, Alabama Power, Georgia Power and even Florida utilities could contract for wind power. TVA would gain potentially tens of millions of dollars by using its existing transmission system to move wind power to other electric companies around the region.

The Clean Line project has received its regulatory and environmental approvals. The next step is for electric utilities, like TVA, to announce plans to procure substantial quantities of low-cost wind power.

In 1933, a group of dedicated people set out to form TVA and its mission to provide energy, support environmental stewardship and create economic development. More than 80 years later, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line wind power transmission line project fulfills TVA’s promise in a big and bold way. It’s time for TVA to jump on the Clean Line.

Ed Wansing is an architect and the Owner and Chief Operating Officer of The Compost Company in Ashland City.