March 15, 2011
Kansas, Missouri

Firm touts project’s economic impact

By Mary Clarkin - The Hutchinson News, 15 March 2011

A Houston-based company plans to finance a wind power transmission line to run from Ford County to south of St. Louis which could run through Reno County.

The 3,500-megawatt transmission line project, called Grain Belt Express, would cost an estimated $1.7 billion to construct, Diana Coggin, project development manager for Clean Line Energy Partners, informed Reno County commissioners Tuesday.

She pointed out the economic benefits would be even greater.

Clean Line expects new wind farms that will generate more than 4,000 MW will be built by a variety of independent wind energy developers. New wind farm investments could be worth $7 billion, and turbines for those wind farms could be equipped with nacelles produced at Siemens Wind Power in Hutchinson, Coggin noted.

Construction of the transmission facilities “will create over 4,700 full-time equivalent jobs in Kansas over a three-year construction period and over 480 permanent jobs associated with the operations and maintenance of the wind-generating facilities,” a document the company filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission stated.

Clean Line’s western converter station would be constructed near Spearville, and the eastern converter station is proposed for St. Francois County, south of St. Louis.

The high-voltage direct-current transmission line from western Kansas to eastern Missouri would stretch about 550 miles, 300 of those in Kansas. The towers could be monopole or lattice-design and would stand about 130 feet to 170 feet tall, according to the document with the KCC.

Clean Line hopes to submit a proposed route to the KCC next year, and the transmission line would go into service in 2016, according to the company.

Clean Line’s strategy is to follow the right of way for roads and railroads, to avoid fragmenting land. The towers will require about 150 feet to 200 feet of right of way, Coggin said.

The company will pay landowners for easements, Coggin said. She also pointed out that information sessions will be conducted this year, and the company has contacted environmental groups.

Clean Line does not own electric utilities in Kansas. Its investors include Ziff Brothers Investments LLC. The Ziff brothers are the sons of a late East Coast publisher.

Last week, the company applied to the KCC for “a limited certificate of public convenience and necessity to site, construct, own, operate and maintain bulk electric transmission facilities” in Kansas.

It also has submitted paperwork to the Southwest Power Pool, which regulates transmission in the region. Southwest Power Pool’s communications manager Emily Pennel said that agency and Clean Line were working together to study the project’s impact on the region’s transmission system.

The application before the KCC, if granted, would give the company condemnation authority, Coggin said in response to a question from the County Commission.

Coggin did not request any special action or funding from Reno County commissioners. Clean Line is seeking a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and is capitalizing on a push by federal and state governments for greater use of renewable energy, the document filed with the KCC revealed.

None of the energy carried by the planned transmission line would go to Kansas customers. Instead, it would be sold to wholesale buyers, such as utilities, and furnish electricity to homes and businesses in the north-central U.S., where wind is less abundant. The transmission line will deliver approximately 15 million megawatt hours of electricity annually to that part of the country, Clean Line estimates.

Clean Line anticipates “all costs associated with the construction and operation of the Grain Belt Express” would be recovered through charges to the suppliers of electricity who contract to buy power – “not Kansas ratepayers” – Clean Line informed the KCC.

Clean Line would fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Coggin said.

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