TVA may import wind power from Texas, Oklahoma

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The developers of one of America’s biggest wind power transmission lines hope to bring wind energy from Oklahoma and Texas to the Tennessee Valley over a 700-mile transmission line.

Developers have spent the past six years planning and trying to get regulatory approval for the $2 billion project, but it’s expected to take at least another three or four years to get approval and for construction. And it may be another decade before the Tennessee Valley Authority buys the wind-generated power.

TVA’s draft Integrated Resource Plan for the next 20 years states that under most scenarios TVA would benefit by importing 1,750 megawatts of wind power from Texas and Oklahoma, or half of the power that Clean Line Energy LLC wants to bring to the Tennessee Valley.

TVA, which began in 1933 harnessing the power of the Tennessee River, expects to use a larger number of other renewable energy sources in the future to replace aging coal-fired generation and to meet future electricity growth. But under most scenarios TVA has outlined in its 20-year power plan, the federal utility projects it will not need the wind power from Clean Line Energy until 2025 or later.

“We think we have a cost-effective resource that can add value to TVA’s system for their customers and our job as a developer is to put together a project that is compelling as soon as possible,” said Dave Berry, executive vice president of Houston-based Clean Line Energy. “We certainly would urge a faster timeline (than most of the scenarios in TVA’s plan).”

TVA’s need for more power has slowed as homes and businesses shift to more efficient methods of heating and cooling and more energy-efficient machines and appliances. TVA projected nearly a 3 percent annual growth in power demand in its last Integrated Resource Plan adopted in 2011. But the most likely scenario for power demand now projects electricity usage in its seven-state region will grow only about 1 percent a year over the next two decades. And that growth could be cut by more energy efficiency programs or consumers using solar panels or windmills for their energy.

Prospective wind power generators in Texas and Oklahoma have offered a total of more than 15,000 megawatts of electricity generation for Clean Line Energy — or nearly four times as much as what is planned for the 4,000-megawatt transmission line.

Clean Line proposes to deliver 500 megawatts of wind power to electricity users in Arkansas, unloaded in Polk County in Central Arkansas, and transmit another 3,500 megawatts to TVA and other utilities in the Southeast through an interconnection with TVA’s transmission lines in Memphis.

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority approved the transmission line into Memphis. But in Arkansas, regulators haven’t granted the same utility status for Clean Line. So the transmission line developers are seeking federal approval to join with the Southwestern Power Administration, which already has authority to site transmission lines in Arkansas.

“We want to use their existing authority to move this cheap wind power from Oklahoma to Arkansas and Tennessee and other parts of the Southeast,” Berry said.

A draft environmental impact statement on the project developed for the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that the project would not have major adverse environmental impacts, although that study won’t be finalized until the end of this year. Berry estimates it will take about three years to build the transmission towers, high-voltage power lines and equipment to convert direct current power back to alternating current for the utilities that buy the power Clean Line carries.

TVA currently purchases all of the power from one of the largest wind farm generators in the Southeast on Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge, where 18 turbines generate up to 27 megawatts of power. TVA also has long-term power purchase contracts with eight wind farms in Illinois, Kansas and Iowa, which collectively provide up to 1,500 megawatts of power.

But during a recent public hearing on its long-range power plan, TVA Vice President Joe Hoagland said wind power is not as consistent and reliable as baseline generators like coal or nuclear power.

“The wind blows when the wind blows,” he said. “What we’re trying to maintain is a balanced portfolio of power.”

But with new and better wind turbines located in some of the windiest parts of the country in Oklahoma and Texas, Clean Line estimates the wind generators will produce power about 55 percent of the time and should be able to generate some power virtually all the time.

Berry also said wind power could provide TVA a fixed price for the next 20 or more years.

“The wind industry has gotten quite mature and is better able to capture wind power to maximize energy output,” he said. “We think in today’s’ market we can do that for under 5 cents per kilowatthour, which we think will be the cheapest renewables you can get and is a very interesting option for TVA.”

Supporters of wind and other renewable power are urging TVA to recalculate the benefits of wind and other renewable energy, recognizing its long-term fixed costs and its help in meeting carbon emissions.

“Unfortunately, TVA ultimately chose outdated wind data, resulting in a draft (integrated resource plan) that includes very little low-cost wind energy,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a member of a stakeholders group that reviewed the draft Integrated Resource Plan.

But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, said much of wind’s price advantage still stems from federal tax credits for wind energy generators, which have been renewed nine times since 1992.

“Washington has a bad habit of picking winners and losers, and an addiction to wasteful subsidies of all kinds — we need to end these policies,” Alexander said during a recent Senate hearing on wind energy. “The most conspicuous example of this addiction is the wasteful wind subsidy — which costs taxpayers about $6 billion every year we extend it, enough to double basic energy research at the Department of Energy.

“There is a place for limited, short-term subsidies to jump start new technologies, but it is long past time for wind to stand on its own in the marketplace,” Alexander said.

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