Proposed Seven-State Transmission Overhaul Would Move Wind Energy To Demand Centers


Novi, Mich.-based ITC Holdings Corp. has filed with the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) its ITC Great Plains Expansion Project, a proposed initiative to build over 2,700 miles of new transmission lines. The plan is focused on exporting energy – including wind power – from west to east across the SPP region and beyond.

ITC Great Plains LLC began developing the expansion plan with engineering, consulting and construction company Black & Veatch over a year ago. The proposal calls for the construction of five main 345 kV AC transmission lines along the following routes:

  • western Kansas to southern Iowa;
  • east central Nebraska to north central Iowa;
  • western Oklahoma to south central Missouri;
  • southwestern Kansas to south central Missouri; and
  • eastern Texas, through southern Oklahoma, to southwest Arkansas.

Terry Harvill – vice president of ITC Grid Development, a wholly owned subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp. – says the proposed project aims to make the transmission grid operate more efficiently and effectively. That includes moving cheaper sources of energy to points where they cannot yet reach, as well as ensuring that power flows more freely.

"When you look at the transmission system today, it's really balkanized and doesn't necessarily operate the way it needs to if you're going to move power fairly large distances," he says.

Harvill claims ITC's expansion project aligns well with SPP's ITP20, the organization's Integrated Transmission Plan (ITP) assessment for the next 20 years. Within ITP20, SPP considers five future scenarios, one of which anticipates the need to move more energy from west to east.

"This was a specific future that SPP put out there for parties to consider, and it just so happened that the study we were undertaking fit right into being responsive to that scenario," Harvill notes.

According to SPP spokesperson Pete Hoelscher, the organization has included this scenario in its planning process because states in SPP's western region, such as Oklahoma and Kansas, are home to many operational wind projects. The problem, he says, is that the wind farms are located where they are not necessary to serve load.

However, despite SPP's growing interest in wind power, the ITC considers its proposed project technology-neutral.

"I wouldn't want to paint this just as a project that was designed to move renewable sources of energy, because once the electrons go on the grid, it doesn't really matter whether they were generated from wind, solar, gas or coal resources – it's all the same once it's on the lines and the electrons are flowing," Harvill explains.

"That said, there has been substantial wind development in the western part of SPP," he adds. "Obviously, some of that would benefit from this."

Approval process
As a regional transmission organization, SPP is responsible for creating transmission expansion plans for its members. It must cogitate states' renewable portfolio standards, population growth and many other factors that could affect the grid in its footprint.

"We have to make sure power is delivered reliably, make sure it's delivered economically and then also meet the policy needs of the various states of our region," explains Tom Kleckner, who is also with SPP. "We've got nine states in our footprint, so we're trying to balance those three needs of our members: reliability, economics and policy."

SPP's typical ITP process includes working on the 20-year plan for 18 months, followed by a 10-year plan for another 18 months. SPP gathers all of the proposed projects, evaluates them, puts together drafts of the projects and sends them to its board for final approval. Now that ITC has submitted into the planning process, the company will continue working with SPP and other regional stakeholders, Harvill says.

So, what if the ITC Great Plains Expansion Project gets approved? How long would it take to build – and for how much?

Harvill cautions that transmission development is a slow process, and it would take years before ITC puts up any lines. Also, because SPP may make changes to the expansion proposal – including variations in line lengths and different interconnection points – the ITC did not attempt to put a specific cost figure on the plan.

"You can use today's dollars and try to ballpark it," Harvill says. "We typically use $2 million to $3 million per mile. When we estimate projects, it's kind of back-of-the-envelope stuff. You can do that quickly enough and come up with a number. We specifically avoided that."

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