Guest Column #3: The Clean Line Project

RAN ON:         March 8, 2016

TO:                 Hannibal Board of Public Works

FROM:           Robert W. Stevenson, P.E.                       

Re:                 The Clean Line Energy Project As I See It

To certain groups, Clean Line Energy LLC (CLE) is not a popular company. Farmers in four states are up in arms over Eminent Domain and ‘Not In My Back Yard’ (NIMBY) arguments. Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) see them as cutting into their historic monopolies on transmission line ownership as well as trying to put their coal fired power plants out of business. Electric Co-ops are against them because Co-ops are owned by farmers.

The opponents of CLE have been very vocal and not kind in their characterizations of the company. Fortunately for CLE real evidence of these characterizations is pretty thin. In fact, the PSC declared their unanimous opinion that Clean Line Energy is fully capable of constructing and operating their proposed transmission line. Unfortunately for Hannibal, some of their vocal opponents are our neighbors and friends. I think the company and its proposals should be given serious consideration based on the economic benefits that may come to Hannibal ratepayers. Let me explain.

Clean Line Energy has proposed a series of high voltage transmission lines originating in western Kansas and Oklahoma to load centers on both coasts. None have been built. None have been permitted. The proposal we are considering involves one of their projects, the Grain Belt Express (GBE). The GBE has been approved for construction in three of four states where it would be sited. Missouri is the only state to disapprove the project. With its disapproval last July, the Public Service Commission (PSC) invited CLE to correct some serious deficiencies in their application and re-apply. The most serious deficiency noted by the PSC was that CLE had no specific electric customers in the state. That is why CLE called on Hannibal.

Remember every other type of electric utility in the state is opposed to the project because of their own economic or political interests. The only wholesale market left for CLE is the municipal electric market, of which Hannibal is a part.

CLE could skip doing business with Hannibal or other municipal electric systems in Missouri. A more lucrative market for their electricity is the eastern United States where prices are always higher than the Midwest. The less they sell here, the more they would have to sell in a higher priced market. But the PSC rejected their original application, encouraging the company to find specific wholesale customers within the state. We should be grateful to the PSC for their original decision. Without that CLE may not be knocking on our door. But they are knocking and they have placed before us a very attractive offer for wind energy transmission service and access to wind generators in western Kansas where the wind blows a lot. The energy prices are very low compared to what we are used to paying and consistent with the market in western Kansas. But, it is only available to us if CLE can get their transmission line constructed.

Opponents of the project are using deceptive language to confuse what I have just said. Don’t trust them. Don’t trust me either. I suggest going to the PSC website and reading their whole ruling – all 27 pages of it for yourself. Also be sure to read the dissenting opinions of two commissioners. They are very informative as to the larger picture I have been trying to paint. Next week read how CLE’s need for customers lines up with Hannibal’s need for power. Very interesting……

For more information regarding the Clean Line Energy Project or to read past articles on this subject, please click HERE.