SE transmission line backer touts $4B in benefits

December 20, 2016

SE transmission line backer touts $4B in benefits
By Kristi E. Swartz, E&E News reporter
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The developer of a high-voltage transmission project that would bring wind energy into the Southeast said the project would have long-term economic benefits of roughly $4 billion.

Pattern Energy Group LP said the Southern Cross Transmission project would create jobs, boost local businesses, and add to the tax base to Louisiana and Mississippi. The bi-directional, high-voltage direct current transmission line would carry wind from Texas.

Pattern hired business consulting firm Moss Adams LLP to do the study, which was released yesterday.

The figures come out shortly before Pattern Energy said it will make a formal filing with state utility regulators in Mississippi. Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley said he looks forward to seeing the numbers when Pattern Energy makes an official filing.

That is likely to happen in January, according to Presley and a company official.

Presley has pushed for clean energy and ways for Mississippians to lower their power bills. This has resulted in more aggressive energy efficiency programs and a change in the net-metering policy that allows rooftop solar customers to receive more than avoided cost if they sell excess electricity back to the grid.

When it comes to the Southern Cross project, Presley said he wants to make sure Mississippians are able to take advantage of the low-cost electricity that Pattern Energy is touting. He also wants to ensure that local contractors are the ones getting the jobs.

“I feel like we should have an opportunity to have as good of terms and conditions on the cost of the power as any customer on the other side of Mississippi,” he said.

Pattern Energy did hold vendor recruitment fairs in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the company and news reports.

The company is still fine-tuning Southern Cross’ route, but it has determined where it will cross the Texas-Louisiana border, said James Dermody, business development project manager. In Mississippi, the line will cross into Lowndes County, he said.

Pattern also has secured an agreement with Alabama Power Co. to interconnect with the utility’s West Vernon Switching Station, Dermody said. The company also is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority to interconnect into its grid, as well, he said.

The company has yet to secure buyers for the wind energy, but Dermody said they continue to talk to electric companies in the Southeast. They plan an open solicitation process during the first quarter of 2017.

“It would basically be a ‘come one, come all’ offer,” he said.

Construction is supposed to start on the project during the first or second quarter of 2018, he said.

The Southern Cross is one of two proposed long-haul transmission lines to carry wind into the Southeast. Clean Line Energy Partners LLC of Houston is still negotiating with TVA on a deal that would bring wind power in from Texas and Oklahoma.

The Southeast is shifting from a region that once had few wind resources to one where those options are changing because of new turbine technology. But building wind farms of any significance is still a long ways off.

Some electric companies, including Alabama Power, Georgia Power and TVA, have long-term agreements to buy wind. Renewable energy advocates have been pushing for those companies and others to add more to the grid as the cost of wind has fallen.

Chief among concerns about bringing in wind from other areas is congestion on transmission lines and a loss of efficiency. High-voltage lines are expected to be a way around that.

“Most of the bigger national studies show that in order to move large-scale quantities of wind power from the Plains, we’re going to have to have more robust transmission,” said Simon Mahan, director of the Southern Wind Energy Association.

“We are a very big market, and there’s plenty of room for everything,” said Mahan, referring to the South region. “We need these HVDCs to bring in wind.”

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