Exploiting and exporting Iowa’s excess wind energy
The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) presided over an informational meeting with Rock Island Clean Line, perhaps 200 O’Brien County landowners and other interested people at the Hartley Community Center on August 20, 2013. The meeting provided information to landowners along a proposed long-distance transmission line.
After an opening presentation from Jim Sundermeyer with the IUB, Rock Island Director of Development Hans Detweiler presented an overview of the 3,000 megawatt (MW), 600,000 volt direct current wind energy transmission (HVDC) line from O’Brien County to Grundy County, IL, a 500-mile distance. The project’s estimated cost is $2 billion. Clean Line is developing three similar HVDC projects.
Currently, there is no high voltage transmission line in the United Sates dedicated solely for shipping bulk quantities of wind energy over long distances in commercial operation. So this is an entirely new business model. Clean Line must rely on wind energy developers to exploit the wind energy potential in a 75-mile radius of the AC to DC converter station where the project starts. Rock Island exports this wind energy.
Clean Line Energy Vice President Wayne Galli spoke to this point, when company officials presented seminars at Northwest Iowa Community College at Sheldon on Jan. 23, 2013. Galli presented technical information on HVDC transmission to 50 students taking college electrical and power lineman’s courses, future employment that should keep them in Iowa. These students who will seek the high-paying lineman’s and substation technician positions after graduation asked many questions.
Addressing this new business model, Galli said, “It is kind of a new business model in the world of transmission, for sure, in terms of how we’re selling capacity.
In terms of the technical aspects of putting 4,000 MW of wind energy on the end one of these lines, it is something that has definitely not been done before.
It’s definitely within the envelope of engineering. Wind energy is not that significantly different from any other form of power generation. None of the vendors have flinched one iota,” Galli answered.
Detweiler began a brief overview when he said, “Basically the way the project will work is that we will pick up 4,000 MW of wind energy, or approximately 2,000 new wind turbines that will be built in this wind resource area.
“The power will go 500 miles on new overhead DC transmission lines and get delivered into Illinois. It will be enough power for 1.4 million homes. It’s more power than the state of South Dakota consumes in a year.
“That then brings a reasonable question. Are you reasonably sure that there is in fact enough demand for the creation of a project of this scale?”
Detweiler pointed to a Power Point slide with statistics that shows how dramatically the demand for more renewable energy is trending up. The statistics showed that the demand was truly robust and demonstrated the need for projects like this.
Aside from Detweiler’s presentation, the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) said in their Midwest Transmission Expansion Plan (MTEP) 2010, “The second major driver for transmission expansion is the Midwest ISO Generation Interconnection Queue which–as of the end of July 2010–held 64,500 MWs of wind requests.”
“The entire grid in Iowa today is alternating current,” Detweiler continued. “This is a direct current project. Direct current has a much higher efficiency than alternating current. But it comes with a catch. The catch is that the cost of converting back and forth between AC & DC is very high.
“We’ll have a converter station here in O’Brien County. The cost of that AC to DC converter station is between $250,000,000 and $300,000,000. If you want to move large amounts of power from Primghar to Chicago, then direct current makes a lot of sense. In fact, the load losses for our line would be about 1/3 the loss, if we were to use 345 kV AC over the same distance. It makes an enormous economic difference.”
After the Rock Island presentation concluded, a Q & A session with landowners followed. One long series of questions from Carolyn Sheridan nit picked Detweiler’s overview and Rock Island’s rational for the project. Sheridan, a spokesperson for a recently formed group called the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, is totally opposed to the DC power line project and the idea of exporting Iowa’s wind energy bumper crop.
“So the electricity taken from Iowa, will it benefit Iowans? You’re taking the wind energy to the east. Will there be any energy used in Iowa?” Sheridan questioned.
To wit, Detweiler replied, “This is how a direct current projects works. If you’ve got a converter station in western Iowa, it picks up power. You’ve got a converter station in Illinois which you deliver to. We do not think it would make any economic sense to have a mid-point converter station where additional power could either be put on the line, or taken off of the line.
“However, our line is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and to ensure open access on the line, if somebody wanted to pay to put an additional converter station at a mid-point, they could do that.”
To Sheridan’s point, Detweiler concluded, “However, as a practical business matter, we see no intention to do that. Legally, yes they could. But, as a practical business matter, we don’t see that happening.”
Clearly not satisfied, Sheridan questioned again, “Is it your intention to work with MISO? Can any of the wind energy created in Iowa and NW Iowa benefit anyone in the Midwest? You’re going east, where all the energy gets traded.”
Detweiler replied, “I mentioned that the MISO and PJM systems overlap. MISO’s system includes much of Indiana, much of Michigan and the southern portion of Illinois. Actually, what our models show is that the power that gets picked up in NW Iowa is delivered into Illinois. Some of that does in fact go back into the MISO system. It’s just the more easterly part of the MISO system rather than the westerly part of the MISO system.”
Belaboring her point one last time, Sheridan questioned, “But, not in Iowa?”
Detweiler said, “It’s very unlikely, I think.”
It’s not within the purview of the Rock Island to connect a costly intermediate converter station onto the transmission line for re-distribution of wind energy in Iowa.