GE partners with Clean Line on $2 billion transmission project in Arkansas

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 316 views 

Clean Line Energy announced Tuesday (Nov. 1) it has hired the U.S. industrial giant GE to provide the high-voltage transformers for the controversial $2 billion wind-energy project expected to begin construction through Arkansas in the second half of 2017.

“We are pleased to partner with Clean Line Energy on this transformational clean energy project,” said Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Energy Connections. “Our exclusive agreement to provide HVDC technology for the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project will pave the way for substantial growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry.”

Since completing its largest-ever industrial deal with the acquisition of Paris-based Alstom’s power and grid businesses for $13.5 billion a year ago, GE has moved to establish a dominant role in the fast-growing global renewable energy sector.

The Clean Line deal is the second GE announcement in the past month that will impact Arkansas. On Oct. 11, GE announced plans to purchase Danish wind turbine maker LM Wind Power for $1.65 billion. LM Wind Power operates a scaled-down manufacturing facility at the Little Rock Port Authority where the company’s payroll has ranged from 100 workers to more than 500.

Clean Line officials have touted the transmission project as the first overhead high voltage direct current (HVDC) project in the U.S. in more than 20 years. A landowners’ rights group has taken legal action in federal court to halt the 720-mile electric transmission infrastructure project.

In highlighting the GE partnership, Clean Line officials say the project will enable the delivery of enough low-cost, clean energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle to power more than one million homes in Arkansas, Tennessee and other states.

“This project will benefit from the experience and leadership that GE brings to bear in modernizing the U.S. electric grid,” said Clean Line President Michael Skelly. “They have been at the forefront of many of our nation’s largest infrastructure projects and will ensure that leading technology will be used to provide affordable, clean energy to the Mid-South and Southeast.”

The U.S. Energy Department (DOE) first approved the project March 25 even though Arkansas’ entire Congressional delegation protested, calling the wind-powered development “unprecedented executive overreach” by the Obama administration. Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz said at the time the project to be built by Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners would deliver wind and other clean-produced energy to more than 1.5 million homes in the mid-South and southeast U.S.

In August, Golden Bridge LLC and Downwind LLC, two groups formed last year to protect property rights and interests of member landowners along the entire route of the proposed 700-mile project, filed a complaint against the DOE regarding their approval and participation in the proposed project in late March. The two landowner groups are represented by Jordan Wimpy, an attorney with Gill Ragon Owen in Little Rock. The legal complaint, winding its way through the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Jonesboro, raises concerns regarding the legality of the DOE’s decision to participate in the project using Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act. Wimpy did not respond to inquiries for comments concerning Clean Line’s announcement.

Asked whether the lawsuit will slow the project’s intended construction start in the second half of 2017, Skelly said the transmission project is moving “full steam ahead.”

“With a delivery converter station in Pope County, Arkansas, the project will bring enough low-cost clean energy to power more than 160,000 Arkansas homes each year,” he said.

Concerning the partnership with GE, Clean Line did not provide financial terms of the deal to deliver the HVDC converter stations to Pope County and Shelby County in Tennessee. Company officials said GE has begun engineering work on the converter stations for the multistate project.

Once the project ready to begin operation, a converter station in the Oklahoma Panhandle will convert the incoming alternating current (AC) power generated by new wind farms into direct current (DC) power. The converter stations in Pope County and Shelby County, Tennessee will convert DC power back into AC power to be delivered to customers through the AC grid, officials said.

The approximately 720-mile-long direct current transmission line to deliver electricity from the Oklahoma panhandle will enter Arkansas in Crawford County north of Van Buren and travels below Alma and Dyer before dissecting Mulberry to follow a line with Interstate 40 through most of Franklin County. From there, the transmission line travels through Johnson County, Pope County, northern Conway County, southern Van Buren County, southern Cleburne County, White County, Jackson County, Poinsett County, Cross County, and exiting Arkansas through Mississippi County north of Memphis. The line will also run through parts of Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Getting right-of-way access from Arkansas landowners has been the most controversial part of the project. Landowners have argued the project has never offered an appropriate avenue at the local and state level for due process during the DOE’s review of Clean Line’s application.

Clean Line officials have said the new HVDC transmission lines are necessary to connect homes and business to less expensive wind-generation power hundreds of miles away. The Houston-based venture group has also reiterated that the company has already invested nearly $100 million of private capital to develop the project and anticipates making more than $30 million in payments to Arkansas landowners for easements and upfront transmission structure payments.

To highlight political support for project outside of Arkansas, Clean Line officials touted backing of the project from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

“We are excited to see GE, the world’s premier digital industrial company, working with Clean Line Energy on a transmission line that will harness and export Oklahoma’s great wind resource,” Fallin said in a statement. “Our Oklahoma First Energy Plan advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and we are proud to see GE once again involved in an effort that will ensure Oklahoma continues to be a leader in all energy production for decades to come.”

At last month’s meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in Little Rock, Fallin and Gov. Asa Hutchinson offered varying views on the Clean Line project. Fallin enthusiastically supports the renewable wind energy project as Oklahoma seeks to diversify its energy portfolio and lessen its reliance on oil and gas. Hutchinson said the federal Energy Department has already authorized the controversial multi-state wind-powered project, so he doesn’t have a position as governor on the viability of the development.

“There is no position needed by me. Now what I do advocate for, and what I have expressed, is that if we are going to have a transmission line going across Arkansas then we want to have a benefit from it in terms of access to the (line) for our receipt of some of that energy,” Hutchinson said.