A lack of transmission capabilities is slowing the growth of wind energy projects in Iowa and Illinois, according to a Houston-based company with plans for a multi-billion-dollar transmission line that would deliver the renewable energy across the Midwest.
Clean Line Energy Partners, an independent developer of transmission lines, is working to build four different transmission projects around the country – including one that will cross Iowa and Illinois. That project, a subsidiary known as Rock Island Clean Line LLC, is a 500-mile long overhead, high voltage direct current transmission line.
“We want to connect the areas where it is really windy and the strongest markets for wind energy,” said Cory Kottler, Clean Line Energy’s senior project manager.
The line will deliver up to 3,500 megawatts of clean power from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota to communities and businesses in Illinois and other states to the east. That is enough energy to power the equivalent of 1.4 million homes.
In addition to Rock Island Clean Line, which is named for the former Rock Island Line railroad, the company is working to site these projects: Plains & Eastern Clean Line, mainly in Oklahoma and Arkansas; Centennial West Clean Line in the Southwest; and Grain Belt Express Clean Line in Kansas and Missouri.
Hans Detweiler, the company’s development director, said Rock Island Clean Line is a $1.7 billion project that will help leverage another $7 billion in investment in wind energy projects across the Midwest. “We want to be the toll road for wind energy,” he said.
“Iowa leads the country in the percentage of electricity it uses generated from wind energy. But last year, not a new turbine was installed in the state,” Kottler said. “It’s getting harder to build new wind. Companies tell us ‘we’d love to build wind, but there is no way to get the wind out.’ ”
Clean Line has spent the past year identifying a possible corridor for the transmission line, meeting with local governments, federal authorities, agricultural and other interest groups, and stakeholders. “We wanted to get feedback on where the better areas are to site the line and where it would be more difficult,” Detweiler said.
The proposed corridor begins in western Iowa somewhere northeast of Sioux City and traverse across Iowa to near Morris, Ill., which is southwest of Chicago. In the Quad-Cities, the corridor runs across the northern end of Scott County and crosses the Mississippi River between LeClaire and Princeton and then into Whiteside or Henry counties.
Kottler said the corridor varies from 3 to 10 miles wide in different locations. But once a final route is chosen, it would only be 150 to 200 feet wide.
The company would purchase easements for the transmission line, but it has yet to work out those details. The construction is expected to create more than 5,000 construction jobs.
Developers expect the project to take five to seven years to complete, with construction expected to begin in 2014 and ending in 2016. Last year, the company filed an application with the Illinois Commerce Commission, or ICC, to become a public utility in Illinois. It plans to file for a franchise with the Iowa Utilities Board, or IUB. Over the next year, it will begin the approval process for routing the line with the ICC and IUB.
Clean Line Energy president Michael Skelly said the company is working closely with local governmental officials, county staff, federal agencies, conservation and other interest groups to site the long-haul transmission project “in a methodical, transparent and collaborative manner.”
Detweiler said Clean Line Energy leaders have been pleased with the interest in the project and cooperation from local government and economic development groups. “Both Iowa and Illinois have done very well in attracting wind energy-related developments,” he said, adding that the new project could help attract manufacturers of wind turbine components to the region.
Daniel Mann, the Quad-Cities Chamber’s vice president of national business development, said the wind industry has struggled since early 2008 because of the lack of transmission capabilities, the economic downturn and federal policies regarding production tax credits. “By solving part of that – the transmission – it just helps the industry in getting back to where they were in 2006 and 2007.”
Having the transmission line in the region “puts the Quad-Cities on the map” for the wind energy companies, he said.
Wind has been one of the region’s target industries for the past couple years because of the area’s proximity to the wind producers and its transportation strengths – from interstate to rail and the river.
“We are in the heart of the wind generation and now we’ll be in the heart of the wind transmission and that’s just huge,” said Liz Murray Tallman, the chamber’s vice president of regional business development. “Our job is we are out there pounding the pavement, explaining why we are the right place for wind manufacturing and logistics.”
In addition to the future development it could spur, Detweiler said the project also is expected to create millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. Another energy choice also will help expand competition in Illinois, the final destination for the energy, which he said is good for customers.
Skelly, the company’s founder, stressed how the wind industry cannot grow without a way to get the energy to market. “Just as the Rock Island Railroad allowed farmers to grow product and move it to market, the Rock Island Clean Line will deliver clean, renewable energy to communities that need it, representing the new farm to market road for the 21st century.”
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