A company in the midwestern United States is planning a new underground transmission line along existing railroad tracks to carry wind-generated electricity from Iowa, the Dakotas, and Minnesota to a transfer point to Chicago, then eastward to regions with high electricity demand.
“We will pull some of the cheapest, most robust wind from the upper Midwest and bring it to the East Coast,” said Trey Ward, CEO of Direct Connect Development Company.
“Because the line with a capacity of 2,100 megawatts (MW) would be mostly invisible, it might elude some of the problems that have dogged transmission lines that would tower overhead while crossing Midwestern farm fields,” Midwest Energy News reports. Ward said the Canadian Pacific Railway covers about 85% of the 349-mile (562-kilometre) route, and the CPR has agreed to allow buried cable beneath its right of way.
“We have the land,” Ward said. “That’s the most significant issue for new transmission lines. Having the land in hand is very important.” And running the project underground “limits the impact to the environment, streamlines the permitting process, and limits impacts to neighbours.”
He said the plan builds on the experience of the U.S. fibre optic network, which also relies on railway rights of way.
MWEN says the Direct Connect project, titled SOO Green Renewable Rail LLC, could mount a challenge to the Rock Island Clean Line, an effort to build 3,500 MW of new transmission along roughly the same route.
“For several years now, Clean Line Energy Partners has been attempting to get permission from Iowa and Illinois regulators to build the Rock Island line,” MWEN notes. “In September, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Clean Line had not fulfilled one of the requirements for a permit to build the line in Illinois. While it seeks a solution to that, the company has withdrawn the application it had pending before the Iowa Utilities Board.”
Direct Connect hopes to start construction on its line by 2020, and begin carrying electricity in 2024. Ward said he’s spoken with utility regulators in Iowa and Illinois, and “we got a very warm reception. They like to see a project like this on a brownfield site. They also like to see it in the ground.”
MWEN notes that the project relies on new developments in high-voltage transmission that have only recently become available. “The technology of high-voltage cables has changed dramatically. I think everybody understands that solar and wind and batteries have changed a lot, but nobody is thinking about transmission,” Ward said.
“Compared to five years ago, we can transmit much more power at a much lower price.”