500-mile transmission project that would carry wind energy

The latest-technology, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line would deliver 3,500 MW of wind energy resources in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to power-hungry load centers to the east, specifically in Illinois and other states. Customers using the Rock Island Clean Line, therefore, would likely be load-serving entities (distribution utilities) or wind farm developers. With transmission development being a marathon process by nature, Clean Line Energy is eyeing the 2016-2017 timeframe for the project to achieve commercial operation.

The FERC order permits Clean Line to subscribe up to 75 percent of the line’s capacity with anchor tenant customers and sell the remaining capacity through an open season process. The anchor tenants would receive guaranteed capacity outside of the open season process; however, the same terms and pricing will be offered in the open season.

FERC, meanwhile, denied the developer’s request to provide a preference to renewable energy sources in its open season. Still, the language of the decision does not entirely eliminate the potential for such an argument to be successful in the future: “[W]e find that Rock Island’s general arguments do not sufficiently explain how distinctions between renewable energy resources and other types of generators justify its requested preferential treatment in an open season for initial transmission capacity. The Commission has not previously approved the inclusion of a preference for energy from renewable resources in a transmission owner’s open season criteria, and Rock Island has failed to provide sufficient justification to do so here.”

“The Rock Island Clean Line project will create good-paying labor jobs for Illinois families, help reduce rates for Illinois electricity consumers by providing more choices, and provide clean home-grown renewable energy to support our environment,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D). “The approval from FERC is a positive step forward for this project.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R), a long-time wind power champion who will speak at the WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition on June 4, said in response to the favorable FERC ruling, “The Rock Island Clean Line project has the potential to bring billions of dollars of new investment to Iowa and create thousands of jobs. I’m therefore pleased to see this approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

Clean Line Energy, a company founded on the principle of connecting abundant renewable energy resources to areas that have a high demand for clean, reliable energy, said it has conducted over 600 one-on-one meetings with stakeholders, has hosted 33 open house meetings to which over 40,000 landowners were invited to submit feedback on routing options, and has held additional open houses in Illinois to introduce local businesses and labor groups to the Rock Island Clean Line project. That project is one of a series of renewable energy-focused transmission projects the company is developing.

Last June Clean Line signed an agreement with Siemens to provide HVDC technology solutions for the Rock Island Clean Line. Under that agreement, Siemens and Clean Line are working together to develop, design, and implement the HVDC converter stations for the project. And last summer Clean Line acquired 2007-vintage interconnection queue positions that are advancing through the regional merchant transmission study process. The queue positions will greatly accelerate the interconnection process for the Rock Island Clean Line, the company said.

“This approval marks an important step forward in the steady progress of our Rock Island Clean Line project, which will bring considerable benefits to the existing grid by delivering low-cost clean wind power from northwest Iowa and the surrounding region to Illinois and states to the east,” said Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy. “We thank the FERC commissioners and staff for their diligence and consideration given to our application. We look forward to continuing to create opportunities for new jobs, low-cost clean energy and significant investment in Iowa and Illinois.”

By Carl Levesque, AWEA Editor & Publications Manager, www.awea.org/blog