Clean Line gains momentum with utility status in Oklahoma – exec

Clean Line Energy‘s Plains & Eastern transmission project got a boost from Oklahoma regulators Oct. 28, pushing the project further through the regulatory process. 

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission voted to give Clean Line Energy utility status to operate in the state, another in a string of recent positive developments for the company.

“This is a really big step for us on the way to getting all the regulatory approvals for this project,” Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of development for the project told TransmissionHub in an interview.

The proposed Plains & Eastern project is an 800-mile, 600-kV transmission HVDC line that will connect renewable energy from western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle to Tennessee Valley Authority, Arkansas and other markets in the Southeast.

TVA is the right place for the line to go as the authority is “the donut hole” of the Southeast, the point of the grid in the region that connects to everyone else, Hurtado said.

In terms of the siting and planning work currently underway, Clean Line is focused on the first of the two lines, which will have a capacity of 3,500 MW. The lines will have a combined capacity of 7,000 MW and are projected to cost $3.5bn.

In Arkansas, Clean Line also needs to obtain utility status, as well as a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need. The company at the beginning of 2011 received an order from the Arkansas commission that praised the project, but did not grant the company utility status, Hurtado noted.

“We continue to seek guidance from the commission and stakeholders, and feel confident we’ll be able to go back soon and apply again for utility status,” he said.

Unlike Oklahoma, Arkansas will also require that Clean Line go through a siting process in the state, which includes an environmental impact statement, Hurtado said.

“Our understanding of Oklahoma is there’s not a formal siting process, so we’ve gone through the process they have available,” Hurtado said.  “We believe we’ll go through some process in Tennessee and then there’s the federal process,” he added.

Plains & Eastern was proposed in response to a Department of Energy request for proposals under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which allows DOE to accept private funding for transmission projects. If the DOE decides to move forward with the project, a federal process, including coordination with the Southwestern Power Administration, would be initiated.

Clean Line also expects to go through a National Environmental Policy Act review.

Though the company decided to pursue a local regulatory and siting process, rather than wait on a decision from the DOE, Clean Line is optimizing all relevant resources available.

“We’re aware that this project is unprecedented, and stringing together multiple states on a project like this, we feel like we have to go at it with as much as we can, which means working at the state level and federal level,” Hurtado said.

He added that Clean Line wants to avail itself at the federal level in addition to the local level, not just for siting authority, but because if the company works with the Southwestern Power Administration and the DOE under section 1222, it paves a “clear path” through the NEPA process. “We believe this line, because of its breadth and the different agencies involved, would be better off going through a formal NEPA process,” Hurtado said.

Clean Line on Oct. 25 finalized its memorandum of understanding with TVA, which allows the company to continue cooperating with the authority, to study the benefits of the HVDC line into their system, he said.

The board of commissioners of Memphis Light Gas & Water recently voted unanimously on a resolution that supports HVDC transmission to bring clean energy into western Tennessee.

“They say they’re going to cooperate with TVA and support projects like ours being done,” Hurtado said. “Both of those things point to concrete steps people are taking to facilitate more clean energy into the Southeast.”

These recent developments, combined with the Oklahoma utility status, point to momentum the company is gaining, which is key as Clean Line moves forward with Plains & Eastern and its three other transmission projects, Centennial West, Grain Belt Express and Rock Island.

“It’s very important,” Hurtado said. “They’re big projects and they take a long time to develop.”

About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.