By - Jim Vess

Could Electric Transmission Delay the Clean Power Plan?


By Jim Vess

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants by approximately 30% from 2005 levels with significant reductions to begin by 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects the rule will result in the early retirement of upwards of 90 gigawatts of coal-fired generation by 2020, or almost a third of current coal generation capacity. The resulting transition in the U.S. generation mix toward renewable energy, natural gas, and energy efficiency strategies will require new transmission lines to be built in order to move electricity from renewable generation sites – such as wind farms in Kansas and solar plants in Arizona – to population areas that need the power.

In the Midwest, the proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line is an approximately 780-mile overhead, direct current (DC) transmission line that will deliver approximately 4,000 megawatts of wind energy from western Kansas to utilities and customers in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and neighboring states. Originally proposed in 2008, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line is expected to be in service in 2019, if there are no delays in the process – that’s a big “if.” Clean Line Energy Partners has received approvals from Kansas and Indiana, and is waiting on approvals from Missouri and Illinois.

Two major transmission projects – Boardman to Hemingway (B2H) and Gateway West – would move 1,500 megawatts of electricity across Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. In the summer the lines would transfer power from Pacific Northwest generation to customers in Idaho and in the winter would serve western Pacific Northwest customers during their peak usage time.

The B2H project, an approximately 300-mile 500 kV transmission line from a proposed substation near Boardman, Oregon to the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho, was originally scheduled to be in service in 2018, but is now estimated by Idaho Power to have an in-service date of 2020 or beyond.

Gateway West, is a 1,000-mile transmission line between the Windstar substation near Glenrock, Wyoming and the Hemingway Substation in Idaho. The project would include 150 miles of 230 kV lines in Wyoming and 850 miles of 500 kV lines in Wyoming and Idaho, and is scheduled to be completed between 2020 and 2024.

In all, more than 170 transmission projects of varying size are planned over the next decade, but the approval process – which requires federal, state and local approvals – can take seven to 10 years to complete. This means many of the proposed projects won’t be in operation before the CPP goes into effect in 2020.

“The biggest challenge in renewable energy is good infrastructure,” Michael Skelly, Clean Line Energy Partner’s president told Bloomberg News. “Everybody is pushing to come up with the lowest cost solution. [W]e have to change how we do transmission. All the entities involved have to move much more quickly.”

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