Renewable energy critics often site transmission as one of the primary hurdles to generation developments distant from current load or transmission lines, particularly when it comes to on and offshore wind.
Clean Line Energy Partners has been trying to change that reality by building high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines that specialize in carrying wind power from wind-rich zones to city centers that need clean and cheap power. And on October 28, the company’s Oklahoma line, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission line, was officially recognized by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and approved for public utility status, allowing Clean Line to build its line through the state. Download the full 65-page order on the top right of this post.
For Clean Line Energy Partners, this OCC order is a major milestone in a lengthy process of requesting approval from each state the transmission lie will pass on its journey from Midwestern to Southeastern states. The company is currently trying to build across the state of Arkansas, but running into legal obstacles there. It is hoping to circumvent Arkansas state opposition by partnering with DOE-controlled Southwestern Energy in building the line.
“When you build a long linear project that takes many years to develop, being deemed a public utility, being deemed someone that does something for the public good is an important signal,” Clean Line Executive Vice President Jimmy Glotfelty, who is also one of the company’s original founders, told Breaking Energy.
When you get these filings, you become more real. You’re not just a concept or drawing on the wall.
The $3.5 billion Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project will deliver about 7,000 MW of wind and natural gas (wind-firming) power from western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas, and the Texas Panhandle to consumers in the American southeast. Oklahoma commissioners who approved the project said that although it will not directly serve Oklahoma electricity consumers, the transmission line could provide a much-needed economic boost as well as the promise of clean domestic electricity.
“Not only is the wind power ‘made in Oklahoma,’ so too is the natural gas power that will power generators needed to fully utilize the transmission line capacity available when the wind does not blow,” said OCC Vice Chair Bob Anthony. Read more about Clean Line Energy Partners and its three other transmission projects, all of which connect wind-rich areas with power-needy cities: Clean Down The Line.
While the line is being built by Clean Line specifically to deliver wind power, US open access rules for power lines require the lines carry electrons no matter what their source. But, Glotfelty said, converter stations are being built in locations that will best transmit wind power. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is expected to be completed by late 2016.
OCC Chair Dana Murphy noted that the new transmission-only utility it will also require a new kind of regulation.
“The Commission has directed its Public Utility Division to develop new regulations to cover this new type of situation. We expect the rules providing for closer regulation of Clean Line and other transmission-only utilities to be ready for legislative approval during the upcoming legislative session,” Murphy said.
Costs for the transmission lines will be shifted to customers in the southeast who choose to receive electricity through the line. By allowing customers to choose, Clean Line has in many ways circumvented critics of FERC 1000 by building the transmission lines themselves rather than building wind resources in remote areas and requiring incumbent utilities to chip in for the price of new transmission. Read more: As Plain As Can Be: FERC Order 1000 In Simple Language.
“We have seen very little opposition,” Glotfelty said. Wind prices have dropped dramatically, almost to grid parity in some regions (under $30/MWh), making wind an economically viable alternative to coal, gas and nuclear power. But Glotfelty said Clean Line is not against thermal power.
“We’re not here to solve all the problems,” he said. He said the company is only trying to tap into the country’s richest wind zones and make sure wind has a fair chance in the market.