- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is stepping in to help push forward a major clean energy transmission line, agreeing to "participate" in development of the 700-mile, 4,000-MW Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project, EnergyWire reports.
- The project's developer, Clean Line Energy Partners, was more ebullient in its reaction, saying the DOE's record of decision "approves" the project. The $2.5 billion project will create thousands of jobs in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, the company said.
- The DOE's ability to partner on the project marks the first time new authority set out the Energy Policy Act of 2005 has been used to address transmission constraints.
Construction could begin next year on the transmission line, EnergyWire reports, but there is still significant work to be done. DOE's involvement aims to clear up delays in route development, giving the line a defined path so that negotiations can begin with landowners.
"The federal government will only exercise eminent domain as a last resort — after the project has met significant milestones to prove its viability — and the process will provide every opportunity for the land owner to maximize the value of their land in a transparent and fair manner," DOE said in a statement.
Importantly, DOE said that before obtaining land for the project from landowners, "commercial viability will need to be demonstrated." That means Clean Line will need to execute transmission service agreements and complete key technical studies required by the Southwest Power Pool, Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Tennessee Valley Authority.
“The Department of Energy’s decision shows that great things are happening in America today. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in the nation and will modernize the U.S. electric grid while bringing forth new investment, job creation, and more low-cost power for American consumers,” Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line, said in a statement.
The project will deliver enough power for more than 1 million homes. 500 MW will be delivered to Arkansas "to ensure that consumers in the state can benefit from the renewable energy delivered by the project," DOE said, a change made following public comment. The remaining 3,500 MW will be delivered to converter station located near Memphis, Tenn., where the project will interconnect to the Tennessee Valley Authority system.
While consumers in the Southeast will benefit from cheaper, cleaner power, the DOE's decision is also a win for wind developers in Oklahoma.
The project is "vital to Oklahoma’s economic diversity and our ability to capitalize on the many benefits that wind energy production can bring to our state," Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma said in a statement. "This project will support Oklahoma communities through tax payments and additional revenues, and will stimulate economic development by providing new investments and quality jobs throughout the state.”
But critics say the federal agency's involvement amounts to potential regulatory overreach. Arkansas' congressional delegation issued a statement condemning the partnership.
"Today marks a new page in an era of unprecedented executive overreach as the Department of Energy seeks to usurp the will of Arkansans and form a partnership with a private company - the same private company previously denied rights to operate in our state by the Arkansas Public Service Commission."