Technological advances help projects move forward, panelists say

There is an emerging market in New England for the type of transmission project that is tied to renewable energy, such as the Northern Pass transmission project, which also involves Hydro-Québec, Marvin Bellis, senior counsel, Eversource Energy (NYSE:ES), said during the recent TransForum East, which was held in Washington, D.C., and presented by PennWell’s TransmissionHub.

“The ambitions of the states [for renewable energy] are creating a market for this type of resource, so there are plenty of opportunities, I think, in New England for transmission,” he said during the Nov. 16 panel on large transmission projects. “This is just one part of what will be [a multi-]faceted set of solutions to address the renewable power demands of the region that are not tied to any particular national policy – these are local folks wanting to do what they can to reduce carbon emissions.”

The $1.6bn Northern Pass project would bring about 1,090 MW of hydropower from Quebec to New England, he said, adding that while the project had a cost of $1.1bn, that total increased due to changes in schedule and project design.

As noted in his presentation, the top 11 most expensive states for electricity include all six New England states, and the factors driving up prices involve fossil/nuclear plant retirements, natural gas pipeline constraints, and aggressive carbon reduction and renewable mandates.

The Northern Pass project would “help alleviate some of the issues around the retirements and the market dynamics that these retirements and other elements of the system are creating, so we help reduce the costs of energy and capacity that the region would otherwise face,” he said.

The benefits that transmission offers – such as allowing the market to be more competitive – need to be communicated more clearly, Bellis said.

Companies need to be more effective “about how to communicate that to folks who are both hosting the line and also paying for the line,” he said.

Bellis noted that the project began in 2010, and was modified in 2013, and again in 2015 to address certain concerns from the affected communities. As TransmissionHub reported in August 2015, 60 miles of the total route of the project would now be placed underground. Bellis said that the project also saw a change from one type of converter technology to another, lowering the capacity of the project to 1,090 MW.

He also said that the project has received a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), as well as a supplemental draft EIS. While the company waits for the final EIS, the state process continues, he said.

As TransmissionHub reported in December 2015, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) ruled that the application for the Northern Pass project is complete.

While that is normally a year-long process, due to the “give and take” in the process, resulting in the changes made to the project, Bellis said that the SEC in May extended the timeframe of the permitting process to September 2017.

The company expects to get the permits needed from the state by September 2017, “and then the federal permits shortly thereafter so that we can commence construction by the end of the fourth quarter of next year, and be in service by 2019,” he said.

Challenges to development

Panelist Kent Herzog, project manager, Transmission & Distribution, Burns & McDonnell, noted that while obvious challenges to transmission development involve siting, public opposition, environmental permitting, and regulatory approval, something being seen “happen repeatedly is what I call an execution model misalignment.”

He said, “[M]y belief is that there are definitely execution models that are best aligned for certain projects, but that there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’” model.

A lack of adequate project planning up front seems to be a problem as well, Herzog said.

The industry’s move towards such competitive pursuits as FERC Order 1000 processes is driving more people to pursue certain projects, “and obviously, nobody wants to spend more money than necessary to get that project” built, so there is a lessening of adequate project planning up front.

There is also “a lack of a desire for strategy around quality, whether that’s quality from a design perspective, manufacturing, [or] construction quality,” he said.

Among other things, Herzog said that there is a lack of good lessons learned approaches, with utilities “just repeating the same problems [and] not picking up the lessons learned.”

As noted in his presentation, there is also resistance to sharing lessons learned. He said that entities are not sharing information about issues encountered during project development and do not have tools and processes that transfer that information from team to team, and project to project, for instance.

Defining ‘large projects’

Panelist Tim Gaul, director, Transmission Siting, AEP Transmission, noted that what constitutes a large project is not only the project’s size or its voltage because small rebuild projects that require widening rights of way (ROWs) through residential developments, or that cross federal/state lands or a state boundary, for instance, can also become big projects for developers.

He discussed the 765-kV Potomac Appalachian Transmission Project (PATH). As TransmissionHub reported, PJM Interconnection’s (PJM) board of directors in August 2012 decided to officially remove that project, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP) project from PJM’s regional transmission expansion plan (RTEP).

Gaul noted that PATH was proposed to be 275 miles long, have two substations, and cross three states as well as the Appalachian Trail. The three states involved had varying opinions about whether the project was needed, Gaul said, adding, “West Virginia was very supportive, Virginia had a very good process going on, and Maryland has rarely approved projects that were [in] new right of way.”

In Maryland, he said that “people were questioning the demand for” the project and subsequently, regulators in “Virginia said, ‘Well, if Maryland is not going to look at it, we’re not going to look at it, we’re going to postpone it,’ and before you know it, the whole thing crumbled.”

Technological advances

Gaul noted that success stories for AEP are the Trans-Allegheny Interstate Transmission Line (TrAIL), which was completed in “four years and 11 months,” as well as the 21-mile Greater Fort Wayne 345-kV Reliability Project, which uses the company’s “BOLD” design and has portions that go through dense development in Fort Wayne, Ind., as noted in Gaul’s presentation.

According to the BOLD website, BOLD increases power delivery in the same ROW; reduces energy losses from conductor heating; and, among other things, involves a reduced structure height.

A project “design that allows for greater capacity in a narrower right of way is a great benefit,” Gaul said.

Panelist Stephenie Harrington, transmission projects communications manager, Dominion Power, also discussed technology advancements, noting that “getting creative with structure types is important.”

Dominion has a certain structure that is “a 500-kV structure that has the 500-kV line above and the 230[-kV] line below, and that’s been a very important structure that we started using on our portion of the TrAIL project, the Meadowbrook to Loudoun project, and we’ve used that elsewhere,” she said.

Dominion in 2007 recognized that “in order to get these projects through on time, on budget, on scope, we needed to not only do communication early and often, but we needed to do it consistently,” she said. “So, a team was put together, which I’m a part of, where we brought in communication professionals that work specifically on electric transmission projects and our strategic initiatives.”

Harrington noted that the company recently rebuilt the Mt. Storm to Doubs portion of a 350-mile, 500-kV loop that it put into service in the 1960s. That portion, which went close to the ROW that PATH was initially conceived, crosses four counties in West Virginia, as well as two counties of Northern Virginia, and into Doubs, Md., she said.

“We were able to build and energize that line one year ahead of schedule,” Harrington said. “[A] lot of that went into riding the coattails of what started off very controversial, but basically being able to deliver … more energy using new tower design within the existing corridor.”

She also noted that Dominion shares information about its proposed projects through direct mail, as well as through social media, individual project webpages and open houses.

The company has moved from the “dad approach,” or “develop, announce and defend,” and has entered the “pop era,” namely, the “people own the process,” she said.

“[I]f you just go out and say, ‘This is the only way that it can be done,’ you’re going to have a lot more controversy,” she said. “You need to go out with a more inclusive approach, and listen to the community. Otherwise, if you don’t do it upfront, you’ll end up doing it towards the end.”
Among other things, she said that it is important to “think about those [individuals who are] not sure and those that support [the project], and make sure that they are very well informed, early, often and consistently throughout the project lifecycle.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.