Oklahoma stands to benefit from other states’ wind projects

Clean Line Energy Partners is building a wind monitoring network in Kansas to facilitate its plans to build a transmission line that will carry renewable energy to the St. Louis area.

And wind industry experts said the project could boost wind development in Oklahoma as well.

Clean Line President Michael Skelly said the installation of high tech wind monitors across six Kansas counties will help developers understand how the wind behaves over a large area.

“We know the resource is there,” he said. “We’re just trying to characterize it.”

Houston-based Clean Line has planned a number of projects to move wind power to areas in need of such renewable resources, Skelly said. Clean Line’s project list includes a proposed 800-mile transmission line across Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Memphis area.

Oklahoma State University professor Shannon Farrell said wind development spurs new projects in other states by creating competition to provide electrical power.

“That is a competition in which all of our energy resources, both fossil and renewable, vie for market share,” he said.

Farrell said another factor is often overlooked. “If surrounding states generate enough development, that development can lead to improvements in infrastructure, which may also attract more manufacturing of wind-related components and the building of human capital to support all aspects of the industry,” he said.

“In a rapidly-evolving industry such as wind power, progress begets progress and areas that do not work proactively to address both the advantages and challenges of wind development can be quickly left behind.”

Wind Coalition Executive Director Paul Sadler said transmission lines adequate to carry electricity in areas full of wind potential are vital for further development.

Texas, which is largely its own electrical grid, is in the midst of a massive 2,300-mile transmission line project that would allow the state to nearly triple the power it generates from wind, he said.

“It’s the most expensive transmission project in the country,” said Sadler, a former Texas lawmaker.

He said Oklahoma and eight other states in the region are part of the Southwest Power Pool, which has approved a list of priority projects designed to boost the entire region’s power grid to accommodate additional wind power.

“That transmission system is really the key to future development,” Sadler said. “If you have a strong grid then you have a better chance to attract manufacturing and jobs.”

Clean Line’s Skelly said continued wind power development is expected to create an export market for that renewable resource — one his company is working to exploit.

The company’s projects are meant to tap into the region’s best available wind resources and move that renewable power to larger markets.

In Oklahoma, Clean Line is seeking utility status, a designation company officials insist is vital to the project. A hearing on that application is scheduled next month at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Skelly said the company’s other projects are on similar tracks, with the biggest variable being each state’s permitting process.

“We’ve got to work with a lot of different people to get them comfortable with the projects,” he said.

New Jersey town gets a rare victory over power-line planFeb 14 – McClatchy-Tribune Regional News – James Osborne The Philadelphia Inquirer

Released On 2/15/2011 When Ryan Flaim got word in late fall that a high-voltage power line was planned along the edge of his family’s Cumberland County farm, he was incensed, but he doubted there was any way to stop it.

Atlantic City Electric, with the law on its side, wanted to install a 10-mile transmission line supported by metal poles in the middle of rural eastern Vineland. Pete Steenland, a prominent businessman in town, already was organizing residents in opposition. Despite his skepticism, Flaim joined in.

Then something unexpected happened. The utility tabled the project and has agreed to look for another route.

“The political system tells you you can’t change certain things, but if you get enough people, you can change your neighborhoods, the world,” Steenland said.

The 2003 blackout that shut down New York City reinforced the long-standing need for a major overhaul of the Northeast’s electric transmission network, known as the power grid. PJM Interconnection Inc., the utility-funded operator of the grid, which serves 13 states and the District of Columbia, estimates it has approved installation of more than 800 miles of so-called backbone transmission lines, part of a nearly $20 billion upgrade, since 2000.

“Without power, commerce slows or comes to a complete stop,” said Robert Revelle, an Atlantic City Electric vice president. “The United States does not want another Northeast blackout.”

Keeping power flowing often means installing high-voltage lines. But whether for aesthetic reasons or worries about allegations of health risks from the lines, people typically want them far from their homes.

In a densely populated state such as New Jersey, that’s a conundrum.

“Nobody’s going to be happy with it anyway, because it’s near them,” said Ray Dotter, a PJM spokesman. “But we need to build now, because we have transmission lines that are reaching their limit.”

Residents face uphill battles when demanding changes to power-line projects, which are seen as an inconvenience to a few for the benefit of many. But there have been victories.

The Susquehanna-Roseland transmission upgrade — a 146-mile line proposed by two other utilities that would stretch from Pennsylvania through northwestern New Jersey — has been delayed three years for review by the National Park Service after protests by environmental groups.

A permit is needed from the service for the line to cross the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River.

The 200 or so people at a public meeting in Vineland last month — most of whom faced the prospect of the line crossing their property — won over city officials, who have rescinded their support for locating the Atlantic City Electric project there.

The new 138-kilovolt line was envisioned as a backup in the event another went out and as a way to enlarge capacity to meet future energy demand. The utility’s rationale for backing off the Vineland location was twofold, Revelle explained.

Because of citizen outcry, the city’s Vineland Municipal Electric Utility scrapped plans for the new eastern Vineland substation to which the line would have connected.

And if demand for power is flat over the next few years, as many believe it will be, the project has less urgency, Revelle said.

“Across the country, there is a declining forecast for demand as we see new-home construction decline,” Revelle said. “A lot of transmission projects are being reconsidered.”

When the economy rebounds, projects on hold will likely become priorities.

Atlantic City Electric has told Vineland residents it will find another route. But many worry the company could renege. They say they are concerned about their property values as well as their health.

The time may soon come when farming becomes economically unfeasible, said Flaim, whose family has grown vegetables in Vineland for five generations. At that point, Flaim would do what many farmers in South Jersey did during the land boom of the last decade: He would sell the fields to housing developers.

“I talked to a banker, and he told me that the power lines would take between 20 and 30 percent off the value of my property,” Flaim said.

As a real estate developer, Steenland is among those likely to contribute to the region’s growth — which would inevitably lead to greater electricity demand. He maintains there are better solutions than high-voltage transmission lines, running hundreds of miles between homes and the large power plants that generate electricity.

“What about the solar farms they’re applying to build here in Vineland? With a five-acre solar farm, you can power 2,500 homes,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I think there are better alternatives.”

The businessman said he has more strategies to thwart Atlantic City Electric if it renews its effort to put the line through Vineland.

Ultimately, Vineland Mayor Robert Romano said, there is little the town can do to stop the utility if it forces the issue. City staff recently located an ordinance requiring power companies to get municipal approval before building a line inside city limits, but Romano admits it would have made little difference.

Atlantic City Electric “could have gone to the Board of Public Utilities and overrode our decision, but they listened to us,” Romano said.

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Reporter Jay F. Marks The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.