Clean Power

Published on November 4th, 2016 | by Tina Casey

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GE On Board With Yuuuuuge US Wind Power Project

November 4th, 2016 by  

It looks like the wind power bottleneck is about to blow wide open. Earlier this week, GE signed on to the single largest renewable energy project in the US, the massive 720-mile, 4,000 megawatt Plains & Eastern Clean Line. The new transmission line will bring clean power from wind farms (and a bit of solar power, too) in the Oklahoma Panhandle area to points east.

New clean power transmission lines in the Midwest haven’t exactly had smooth sailing recently, but GE’s Andrew Goodman, who is managing the project, spent some time on the phone with me earlier this week and he made a good case for this one happening.

us-wind-power-plains-eastern

New Wind Line Gets TLC From DOE

If Clean Line rings a bell, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. The energy company is the force behind a whole series of high voltage DC (HVDC) transmission lines in development, aimed at bringing clean power from the windy (and sunny) midwest to other parts of the country: Centennial West, Grain Belt Express, Rock Island, and Western Spirit round out the roster along with Plains & Eastern.

Some of these projects have gotten caught up in local opposition but last spring the US Department of Energy took the highly unusual step of announcing that it would help push the Plains & Eastern project forward.

Although the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the agency to participate in the development of new transmission lines, it had not exercised its authority to do so until Plains & Eastern came along.

The transmission line partnership does not include financial backing, but it could make a a world of difference in terms of accelerating land acquisition for the project. It empowers the Energy Department to acquire land on behalf of Clean Line.

That effectively takes property off of local tax rolls, which is not a good thing. However, the agreement requires Clean Line to make payments to local governments with the aim of offsetting those losses.

Here’s the rundown from Clean Line:

Plains & Eastern Clean Line is the largest clean energy infrastructure project in the United States. The $2.5 billion project — 100% funded by private investment — will support thousands of jobs in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, including hundreds of manufacturing jobs in those states.

DOE’s role extends to the 705 miles of line running from Oklahoma to the Arkansas-Tennessee border. Connections to Texas and Tennessee will be Clean Line’s responsibility.

GE’s First HVDC Project In 20 Years

GE’s role will be to provide three converter stations. Their purpose is to make the transmission of bulk electricity more efficient and economical by converting AC current to DC, then back to AC for pickup by local utilities.

Those of you who have followed GE news on and off for the past 20 years may be surprised to hear that, since GE spun off its HVDC converter business about 20 years ago.

However, some of that technology went to HVDC expert Alstom, and GE acquired Alstom just last year in anticipation of the need for new transmission lines for renewable energy.

As for the converter stations themselves, according to Goodman there has not been a sea change in transformer technology in recent years. However, the latest iteration is more efficient and much more compact thanks partly to the use of new materials including higher grade steel and more efficient, less bulky insulation.

Nothing Can Stop Wind Power Now

When global engineering giants like GE lay plans for a wind-powered future, it kind of pulls the rug out from under all the clean energy naysayers in the US. For the record, that includes a major-party presidential candidate.

According to Goodman, GE anticipates that the Clean Power Plan will hold up in court, and that states will be eager to get their hands on more renewable energy:

“We strongly believe that renewables, over time, will replace fossil fuels…there will be more need for bulk transmission to bring [clean power] to areas without renewables.”

Goodman also noted that utilities are already on the clean energy bandwagon, and that the economics are “very competitive” with fossil fuels.

In addition to its land based wind ventures, GE has also been ramping up on the offshore end of things.

Last summer, GE began shipping its first offshore wind turbine nacelles from its factory in France to the US, for installation at the first offshore wind farm in the US, the Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

Earlier this week, GE announced its aim to be “one of the top three players in the offshore wind industry globally” with the assignment of a new CEO to direct its offshore wind business.

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Image: via Clean Line Energy.





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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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