By Loren Gaylord Flaugh
A big power line to transport electricity generated by wind from northwest Iowa to places east of Iowa, such as Chicago, is an idea that is making progress toward becoming a reality. Clean Line Energy Partners, based in Houston, Texas has begun filing applications with federal and state regulatory agencies.
Clean Line filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on November 8, 2011 and the Iowa Utility Board (IUB) on October 3, 2011. Both filings are related to Rock Island Clean Line's proposed $1.7 billion dollar, high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line, which is to run from O'Brien County in northwest Iowa to Grundy County in Illinois.
The 600,000 volt DC power line, as is now proposed, will ship 3,500 MW of yet undeveloped wind energy generation from northwest Iowa, western Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and eastern Nebraska to a location near Chicago. It then would connect onto the extra high voltage (765,000 volt) transmission system of PJM Interconnection (PJM).
PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the marketing and distribution of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states east of the Mississippi River and the District of Columbia.
Collector station to gather electricity is planned for O'Brien County
In the spring of 2011, the west end collector station for the line was planned to be located in either O'Brien County or Cherokee County in northwest Iowa. But in their October filing with the Iowa Utilities Board, Clean Line revealed that the converter station is indeed being planned for O'Brien County.
In the FERC and IUB filings, Clean Line reported that their majority owner is ZAM Ventures, LLC. ZAM Ventures LP is the principal investment arm of ZBI Ventures, a subsidiary of Ziff Brothers Investments, LLC. Another additional equity investor is Michael Zilkha of Houston, Texas.
According to the filings, "The initial equity investors are providing capital to enable Clean Line Energy Partners to undertake the initial development and permitting work for its transmission line projects, including the Rock Island Clean Line." To date, $5.5 million has been spent during the early stage of development.
Clean Line also indicated in their IUB filing: "Regulatory approvals will be critical to Clean Line's ability to secure the additional capital to allow Clean Line to construct the project. The initial equity investors could participate in the project financings by making debt or additional equity investments, along with new lenders, investors and/or partners."
Working with federal energy commission's regulatory requirements
In its 57-page FERC filing, Clean Line said, "We respectfully request that the Commission issue an order granting Rock Island Clean Line authorization to sell transmission rights at negotiated rates and to pre-subscribe up to 75% of its planned capacity."
In effect, these pre-subscribed shippers will have long-term contractual agreements to ship a combined total of up to 75% (or about 2,600 MW) of the rated 3,500 MW capacity of the transmission line from renewable energy resources primarily wind energy. Clean Line will then hold an auction-process open season for additional generators wanting to fill the remaining 25% capacity.
Rock Island Clean Line officials defend their need for negotiated rate authority by stating, "Rock Island also believes the economic imperative of developing a merchant transmission line of major scale proposed to connect yet undeveloped generation resources to a developing load readily justifies the need for 75% pre-subscription and negotiated rate authorization."
It's an interstate power line, so the federal commission has oversight
In securing these primary customers, Rock Island Clean Line officials said their process for selecting these primary shippers will be an open, transparent and non-discriminatory process for offering transmission services.
Because it's an interstate power line, FERC will have eventual oversight over the rates charged to shippers and will ensure that the transmission line is operated on an open access and non-discriminatory basis.
The project will also help to ensure that FERC will reach its goal for "expanding transmission infrastructure and gaining new sources of competitively priced energy."
Yet another benefit is that the HVDC transmission line will not directly impact electric flows on the existing HVAC transmission grid in Iowa and Illinois. By constructing the new line, some overcrowding on the existing 345 kV HVAC grid in Iowa could be eliminated.
Upon completion of construction of the line which has a target date of 2016, Rock Island said in the FERC filing: "We will turn over operation of the project to one of the two regional transmission organizations to which it will be interconnected."
To promote regional reliability and enhance the operational efficiency of the transmission line is the primary reason for having an RTO control electricity flows. Transmission system reliability and efficiency are FERC requirements.
Other signs of progress being made on Rock Island Clean Line project
According to a June 13, 2011 Rock Island Clean Line press release, an agreement with the Siemens company to provide HVDC engineering for the 3,500 MW transmission line was signed. Siemens and Clean Line will also work together to develop, design and implement the two $250,000,000 HVDC converter stations, one on each end of the line.
Regarding this development, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said in the news release, "New transmission infrastructure is critical to unlock Iowa's best wind resources for development and to grow the state's wind energy industry."
Siemens has a wind energy industry manufacturing facility at Fort Madison. That's where they make their big wind turbines. While going further, Branstad said, "I am pleased to encourage these two companies to work together with regulatory agencies to develop a new transmission line that will help us get Iowa's wind energy to markets and create thousands of jobs in the process."
There are also proposals for other Clean Line projects in the U.S.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission announced on October 28, 2011 that it unanimously approved the request from Clean Line's Plains and Eastern HVDC transmission line project to conduct business as a public utility.
The Plains and Eastern Clean Line is currently envisioned as dual, 3,500 MW HVDC transmission lines that will move 7,000 MW of wind energy from SW Kansas, Western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle to Memphis, Tenn. and points beyond.
In news related to Clean Line's Grain Belt Express HVDC transmission line, the Kansas Corporation Commission announced on December 7, 2011 their unanimous approval of Clean Line Energy's proposal to conduct business as a public utility.
An AC to DC converter station near Spearville in western Kansas will gather 3,500 MW of wind energy and then ship it via an HVDC transmission line that crosses Missouri and Illinois to a DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) converter station-- possibly located in Sullivan County, Indiana.A second round of public open houses for businesses and landowners along the proposed transmission line route in Illinois was held in December 2011. With direction from the Iowa Utilities Board, the second round of open house meetings in Iowa will be held later in 2012 once Clean Line has identified and evaluated a final corridor for the line across the state of Iowa.