Though there hasn't been a lot of talk about the project lately, the Rock Island Clean Line energy transmission project is far from dormant. After announcing the selection of a site in O'Brien County earlier this year for the construction of a transmission terminal, the Rock Island Clean Line was notified late last week that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had granted regulatory approval for the Clean Line to begin negotiating transmission service agreements with potential customers.
What that means locally in Palo Alto County is that the Rock Island Clean Line transmission project is another step closer to the acquisition of right-of-way through a corridor in the southern third of the county for future construction of the direct-current transmission line.
The Rock Island Clean Line transmission project was first unveiled as a 500-mile overhead high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line that will run from northwest Iowa to an area near Morris, Illinois. The project will deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy resources from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota to communities in Illinois and other states to the east to meet increasing demand for clean, reliable energy.
The FERC order was issued in response to the application filed by Clean Line in November 2011. Receiving this authority permits Clean Line to subscribe up to 75% of the line's capacity with anchor tenant customers and sell the remaining capacity through an open season process. The anchor tenants will receive guaranteed capacity outside of the open season process; however, the same terms and pricing will be offered in the open season.
In its application, Clean Line addressed the following standards: the justness and reasonableness of rates; the potential for undue discrimination; the potential for undue preference, including affiliate preference; and regional reliability and operational efficiency requirements. Clean Line also described why granting its request will be in the public interest.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said in response to the favorable FERC ruling, "The Rock Island Clean Line project has the potential to bring billions of dollars of new investment to Iowa and create thousands of jobs. "I'm therefore pleased to see this approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."
Clean Line has conducted over 600 one-on-one meetings with stakeholders, has hosted 33 open house meetings to which over 40,000 landowners were invited to submit feedback on routing options, and has held additional open houses in Illinois to introduce local businesses and labor groups to the Rock Island Clean Line project.
The importance of development of transmission lines for wind energy is crucial, as current electrical transmission lines are operating at capacity throughout rural America. With a lack of transmission capacity to get the electricity from where it is created to where it is needed, the growth of the wind energy industry is severely limited.
Along with the development of the transmission lines, another benefit of a project such as the Rock Island Clean Line is the creation of jobs. Clean Line Energy officials estimate the construction of the Rock Island Clean Line would create nearly 5,000 jobs for the actual hands-on construction phase, and once construction is completed, another 500 jobs in the operation of the transmission line are projected when it is operation. Another benefit from the transmission line would be property tax revenues for counties that the transmission line runs through.
Substantial progress on engineering and design of the project has been made since its inception in early 2010. In June of 2011, Clean Line signed an agreement with Siemens to provide HVDC technology solutions for the Rock Island Clean Line. Under that agreement, Siemens and Clean Line are working together to develop, design, and implement the HVDC converter stations for this important infrastructure project. In the summer of 2011, Clean Line acquired 2007-vintage interconnection queue positions that are advancing through the regional merchant transmission study process. These queue positions will greatly accelerate the interconnection process for the Rock Island Clean Line.
"This approval marks an important step forward in the steady progress of our Rock Island Clean Line project, which will bring considerable benefits to the existing grid by delivering low-cost clean wind power from northwest Iowa and the surrounding region to Illinois and states to the east," said Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy. "We thank the FERC commissioners and staff for their diligence and consideration given to our application. We look forward to continuing to create opportunities for new jobs, low-cost clean energy and significant investment in Iowa and Illinois."
Developing a project of this scale is a long-term undertaking; the approximately $1.7 billion project is expected to achieve commercial operation in 2016 or 2017. For more information about the Rock Island Clean Line, please visit www.rockislandcleanline.com.