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Clean Line Energy’s Iowa-Illinois grid project advances

Clean Line Energy obtained federal regulatory approval to start signing up customers for its proposed 500-mile (800 km) transmission line that will connect wind farms in Iowa with power markets in Illinois, the company said on Wednesday.

The $1.7 billion Rock Island Clean Line project is a high-voltage, direct-current line designed to transfer up to 3,500 megawatts of wind power and other generation from northwest Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to communities in Illinois and other eastern states by 2017.

“This approval marks an important step forward in the steady progress of our Rock Island Clean Line project,” said Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line Energy, a privately owned Houston-based company aiming to build thousands of miles of power lines to service a growing appetite for renewable energy.

Clean Line’s four projects under development would move power from as-yet unbuilt wind farms in areas of the country with the best wind resource and transfer that electricity to power-hungry cities in the Midwest, Southeast and West Coast.

High-voltage, direct-current transmission lines are an efficient way to move electricity over very long distances. The lines are more expensive to build than other high-voltage lines, but require a smaller right-of-way.

Clean Line said the order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would allow it to subscribe up to 75 percent of the Rock Island line’s capacity with anchor customers.

Remaining capacity would be sold through an open season process, the company said in a statement.

Governors in Iowa and Illinois – states at both ends of the proposed line – praised the ruling, citing the sizable investment and potential new jobs.

“The Rock Island Clean Line project will create good-paying labor jobs for Illinois families, (and) help reduce rates for Illinois electricity consumers by providing more choices,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Clean Line said it was working with Siemens to design direct-current converter stations needed for the project.

The company’s Plains & Eastern Clean Line project is designed to move 7,000 MW of renewable power from the panhandle region of Oklahoma, north Texas and southwest Kansas more than 800 miles to states in the U.S. Southeast, a region with little access to renewable power.

Its Grain Belt Express Clean Line would move 3,500 MW of wind power from western Kansas to southeastern Missouri and the Midwest, while its Centennial West Clean Line would move 3,500 MW nearly 900 miles from eastern New Mexico to Arizona, Nevada and southern California.