If all goes according to plan, 400,000 megawatts of low-cost wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle will be pumped into the Mid-South by 2020, allowing residents to power their homes and businesses with eco-friendly renewable energy.
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line, a 700-mile overhead, direct-current transmission line that begins on a wind farm in Oklahoma and culminates at a converter station near Millington, won a major approval from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) late last month. That approval clears the way for construction of the line, which is set to begin in late 2017.
"West Tennessee and Memphis will be the hub, not just for transportation and logistics, but also for renewable energy," said Clean Line Energy co-founder and executive vice-president of development Mario Hurtado, referencing the Millington area substation the company will build for the project. The wind energy will be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which provides power to Memphis Light, Gas, and Water customers and other utilities across the South. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: How would you explain the Clean Line Energy project?
Mario Hurtado: This project is basically a super-highway or pipeline, but in the form of electric transmission to take the cheapest energy in the country and get it, in the most efficient way, to Arkansas, Tennessee, and the rest of the Mid-South.
An hour of wind energy from the Panhandle costs about two cents [to produce] and two cents to get it to TVA and the rest of the Southeast. Four cents for wind energy on a long-term basis with zero emissions, we think is a very good deal.
Wind energy is extremely inexpensive right now, and part of that has to do with federal policy. For people in the Tennessee Valley, that means the opportunity to save billions of dollars on their electric bills.
Was the DOE approval the last hurdle?
This is the last regulatory approval, but we still have some permits to get on the environmental front. We have some commercial engineering milestones. This approval from the federal government allows us to do a lot of the work we need to do in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Some Arkansas property owners protested the project because they didn't want a transmission line going over their property. Are you still working to get permission to build the line through Arkansas?
There are more than 2,000 parcels on the transmission line, and we have to talk to every one of those landowners. We're working very hard to start that conversation. We need to continue to do that, which is why we have time now to purchase more right-of-way and make sure people understand our compensation package for easements and how we want to treat them fairly and compensate them properly to build a transmission line on their land.
When the transmission line gets built, the landowners still own the property. They just give a limited permission for that transmission line to be there. And it takes up very little land on the ground because most of it is in the air.
Once the line is built, people can still farm on [the land], ranch on it, or use the property however they want. We are paying them the full market value for square footage for that right-of-away. We pay based on the market value of the property, and in addition to that, every year the project receives revenue, they will receive a piece of that revenue for having granted the easement for the transmission line.
How is this more eco-friendly?
We're connecting to a power source, which is wind energy, that doesn't have any emissions and has a very low impact. This country has been shifting from coal-fired power generation, from boilers that burnt coal, to [power] generation that is much cleaner.