Sen. Lamar Alexander questions need for wind energy transmission line to TVA

Sen. Lamar Alexander questions need for wind energy transmission line to TVA

May 14th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Local - Breaking News

Lamar Alexander

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Two Tennessee Republicans in Congress are questioning a proposed $2 billion project that would bring wind energy from the Great Plains to power users in the Tennessee Valley.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., urged TVA today to carefully evaluate the reliability and security of importing wind energy over a 700-mile transmission line proposed to be built from Oklahoma to Tennessee. The lawmakers said they are wary about the developer of the proposed transmission line, Clean Line Partners, being granted utility status to allow the company to buy property if land owners don't want to sell.

"It's up to the TVA board to decide what kinds of electricity to generate and purchase," said Sen. Alexander, an ardent critic of federal tax credits to the wind energy. "But it is the responsibility of members of Congress to provide oversight to TVA policies, and these questions are part of that oversight."

Rep. Finch and Alexander sent TVA President Bill Johnson a list of 11 questions about the project and its cost, reliability and challenges. Finch said he is "particularly concerned about any possible use of eminent domain" that would force property owners to sell land if they don't want to sell.

Clean Line Partners has signed a memorandum of understanding with TVA to study the possibility of wheeling 3,500 megawatts of wind power from Oklahoma and Texas to a TVA substation in Memphis. TVA could use wind power, which is considered a renewable energy source, or transmit the wind-generated electricity along its own transmission lines for use by other Southern utilities looking to boost their share of renewable energy.

"TVA should and will make a decision that is in its best interests, but we believe this would provide a clean, reliable and cost-competitive source of power that would not increase in price over the next 25 to 30 years," said Mike Skelly, founder and president of Clean Line Energy.

Clean Line estimates the wind power could be delivered to TVA for 4 cents to 6 cents per kiowatthour, which would make it generally competitive to other new sources of energy for TVA.

But Alexander questioned whether TVA needs more power with the slowdown in the growth of electricity demand. He also questioned whether wind would become more expensive if federal production credits given for new windmills are not extended.

Clean Line Energy has been working on the proposed direct-current transmission line for the past five years and hopes to have the new service in place by late 2018, Skelly said today. The transmission line would be one of the biggest DC lines built in America and is projected to take about two and a half years to build through Oklahoma, Arkansas and a small portion of western Tennessee.