Grain Belt Express Clean Line: Addressing the Renewable Transmission Challenge

Sponsored by Mario Hurtado, Co-Founder & Executive Vice President, Development – Clean Line Energy and written by Diana Rivera, Director of Market Development & Regulatory Affairs – Clean Line Energy

Grain Belt Express Clean Line is a 750-mile, direct current electric transmission line that

Diana Rivera Clean Line Energy

Diana Rivera
Clean Line Energy

will deliver low-cost wind energy from Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and states farther east. The project will traverse four states and connect three regional transmission organizations (RTO) – the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and the PJM Interconnection, creating a new farm-to-market road for low-cost, reliable wind power.

Across the United States, roughly 30 states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), requiring utilities to purchase a growing percentage of electricity from renewable resources. As wind installations have grown, emissions have decreased, and wind energy is saving money for consumers. Because wind is free, wind power has very low marginal costs to produce electricity and is often the cheapest power available in the market. Further, because long-term, fixed pricing can be secured for wind energy, it provides a hedge against volatile gas prices.

As the industry has grown, wind turbine technology and productivity have improved, and wind energy costs have declined by 43% over the last four years. The prices of wind energy, however, vary dramatically depending on wind speed. The windiest areas of the U.S. are in the middle of the country, distant from large population centers. We need long-haul, direct current (DC) transmission lines to efficiently deliver the most cost-effective wind energy to market with lower electric losses and a narrower right-of-way than comparable alternating current (AC) lines would require.

Grain Belt Express Clean Line offers an efficient, economical solution to address this challenge. The direct current line will deliver wind power to Missouri and MISO and continue to Illinois and Indiana, where it will deliver 3,500 megawatts (MW) to PJM, which according to SNL Financial, will require 14,000 megawatts of new renewable capacity to meet RPS standards by the end of this decade.

There are tens of thousands of MW of wind projects under development in the western Kansas region – enough to fill the Grain Belt Express capacity many times over. Indicative pricing for these projects is in line with the cheapest renewable energy in the country – close to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, flat for 20 years. When you add the cost of Grain Belt Express transmission, the delivered price of energy to PJM is near 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, competitive with any other type of new, local generation.

In terms of siting, we are working state by state consulting with thousands of local

Monopole Transmission Line

Monopole Transmission Line

stakeholders to develop the project in the most responsible manner possible. We understand that landowners and communities will host the project for decades to come and seek their input early and often. We work to be responsive to landowner requests; for example, we are offering ongoing annual payments for landowners with structures on their property, and total compensation will exceed 100% of the fair market value of the land within the 150-200 foot easement.

We believe extensive public involvement is crucial to successful project development, and we are humbled by the regulatory approvals we’ve received thus far. Kansas and Indiana commissioners deemed Grain Belt Express in the public interest and granted public utility status, and Kansas commissioners determined our carefully selected route was necessary and reasonable. We are now seeking the ability to construct the project in Missouri, engaging with landowners along the 200-mile proposed route. Soon we will invite thousands of Illinois landowners to provide their input at public open houses, before we identify a proposed route to file for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission in 2015.

Communication and collaboration are essential, and Clean Line values the importance of building relationships and maintaining an open dialogue, so that we can advance our projects and help to build the energy infrastructure needed to support a cleaner energy mix of the future.