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Kansas power could blow through Valley; $2B plan calls for wind farm electricity to be transmitted across Indiana

TERRE HAUTE – Indiana, known as the crossroads of America, could soon be part of a $2 billion plan to transmit across the Hoosier state electrical power from Kansas-based wind farms.

Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC, an affiliate of Clean Line Energy Partners LLC of Houston, is in the process of becoming a regulated public utility in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

The company plans to file as a new utility before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in the next few months, said Diana Coggin, the company’s project development manager. Grain Belt Express, as of December 2011, became a regulated public utility in Kansas.

While a specific route has not be selected, the transmission line would travel north of Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis, then south of Terre Haute to Sullivan, Coggin said.

At Sullivan, the line would link into existing high-voltage transmission lines for further distribution to the east, such as to New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

The company expects to invest at least $6 million in the Sullivan substation, which would include construction jobs for the project.

Grain Belt Express has sheduled a town hall meeting for 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Sullivan County Fairgrounds to discuss the project with the public.

The project includes a 700-mile direct current transmission line that would deliver 3,500 megawatts – 600,000 volts – of power, enough to power 1.4 million homes. That is the equivalent of the power generated by three Hoover Dams, according to a company estimate.

Once all regulatory approvals are received, construction on the private investment project could begin as early as 2015, Coggin said, then take two to three years to complete.

The transmission lines would be on single steel poles, about 120 to 140 feet tall, in a 150-foot to 200-foot right of way.

“Wind turbines are more efficient and are producing more energy at a lower cost,” Coggin said. “The Great Plains have the best wind resources,” but the user population of power is small, and transmission lines are relatively weak, Coggin said.

“Our company was formed to bridge the gap between the most abundant wind resources and larger population centers,” Coggin said.

The company has four transmission projects under way. The three others include transmission lines from Iowa to Chicago; from Oklahoma to Tennessee; and from New Mexico to southern California.

The use of direct current lines allows the company to deliver power at a lower cost per mile.

It also enables the company to “use a merchant model, whereby we can sell capacity on the line and charge only the users of the line for the costs, whereas, most transmission lines are cost-allocated broadly to all ratepayers in the region,” Coggin said.

The transmission line would enable more investment in wind farms to be built, largely in Kansas. “The land [in Kansas] is leased and ready to go, but they don’t have the customers. By connecting them to the market, more wind farms will be built,” Coggin said.

“Indiana utilities have done a great job of building up the [electrical transmission] grid here. If we can get our line to connect to the existing 765 KV lines that originate in Sullivan County, then that is how we can reach consumers in a very broad area,” Coggin said.

“Indiana can be viewed, not only as the crossroads of America, but as a hub for renewable energy,” Coggin said. “The American public wants clean energy, and costs are coming down.”

Economic benefits, Coggin said, include low-cost energy, which would cut wholesale power costs. Indiana has about 200 businesses in wind energy and transmission supply, such as General Cable, Coleman Cable, Leeco Steel, Ambassador Steel, Universal Steel, ATI Castings and Brevini Wind. Another is Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives LLC, which acquired White Construction Inc. in Clinton in 2011.

Clean Line Energy Partners is owned by Ziff Brothers Investments LLC and Michael Zilkha of Houston, who previously owned Horizon Wind Energy LLC.