Public gets first glimpse of Lake Erie CleanPower Connector

Members of the public in Ontario, Canada, and in Pennsylvania got their first glimpse of the proposed Lake Erie CleanPower Connector project during a Sept. 12 news conference at which its developers unveiled the project’s web site.

The developer, Toronto-based Lake Erie Power Corp. intends to build a 65-mile underwater and underground HVDC transmission line that would travel from a converter station that will be built near Nanticoke, Ont., along the bottom of Lake Erie, then continue underground to a second converter station adjacent to a high-voltage substation near Albion Borough, Penn., operated by FirstEnergy (NYSE:FE) subsidiary Penelec.

“There’s virtually no visual impact,” John Douglas, CEO of Lake Erie Power, told TransmissionHub Sept. 23. “It’s going to be buried under Lake Erie, and when we come ashore, we have about an eight-mile run to the substation and that line will be buried in an existing railroad right-of-way that we’ve entered into an option agreement to acquire.”

Siting the project underwater and underground, he said, is proving to be popular with people along the projected route.

“I think that helps alleviate people’s concerns about visual impacts, and of course the environmental impact, even during construction, will be very minimal,” Douglas said.

The project will allow the PJM Interconnection to tap into up to 1,000 MW of new sources of energy, including hydroelectric, wind, and other renewables as well as nuclear and combined-cycle gas generation. The additional energy will significantly improve grid reliability and stability in PJM, and will reduce congestion on the existing transmission system, according to the developer.

“We think it’s a great opportunity to bring clean energy from an area that has a lot of excess energy to an area that is going to need more and more energy to meet its growing demand,” he said.

Next steps include the publication of a detailed route map, expected later in the fall, followed by by a series of public meetings and additional public outreach, for which the company has budgeted $12m in 2014.

“We haven’t had a bad meeting,” Douglas said. “We’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible.”

The project will use two solid-state HVDC electric cables, each approximately six inches in diameter, connecting the converter stations in each country. Each HVDC converter station will, in turn, be connected to a nearby HVAC substation. Plans call for the lines to be buried at least two feet beneath the bottom of the lake, and four to five feet deep where it crosses land.

The project, estimated to cost $1bn according to TransmissionHub data, will be a merchant transmission line, meaning those who buy or trade the electricity would pay a tariff to a subsidiary of Lake Erie Power for using the line’s capacity on the lines, he said. It will be not be funded by retail ratepayers, or any other form of public funding.

“We’re not relying on any state subsidy, federal subsidy, grant program [or] loan guarantee,” Douglas said. “We’re saying let the private sector come in and confirm the commercial aspects of the project, and we can enter into transmission services agreement with shippers and that will effectively make the project bankable.”

Douglas intends to spend the next several months meeting with potential shippers. He sees merchant transmission lines as a viable alternative to other funding mechanisms.

“I think merchant lines are becoming increasingly an acceptable way for some of this critical infrastructure in the United States to get built,” he said.

The project, which is expected to create as many as 300 construction jobs, 1,200 spinoff jobs and about 30 permanent jobs, is expected to enter service in 2017.