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Siemens signs up for 3.5GW HVDC project to deliver US wind

Siemens has entered an exclusive agreement with Clean Line Energy Partners to provide high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) technology for its Rock Island project, which will deliver 3.5GW of wind power from the Northern Plains to Illinois and states to the east.

In addition to providing detailed technical expertise to the development team, Siemens will work with Clean Line to develop, design and implement the HVDC converter stations for the $1.7bn project.

Rock Island is one of four Clean Line transmission schemes in the early stages of development. The US faces a dual challenge to modernise and expand its grid, and to bring wind power from remote areas to load centres.

Siemens is really good at this stuff and understands it,” Clean Line president Michael Skelly tells Recharge, referring to the German company’s 25 years of international experience with HVDC. “With an organisation like Siemens behind this, it will add a lot to the project.”

Obtaining the plethora of approvals for interstate, overhead high-voltage power lines and completing construction can take a decade or more, a costly process that Clean Line aims to reduce to five to seven years.

Clean Line hopes to achieve this by persuading politicians and regulators that new transmission is in the public interest, and by convincing residents that they should pay higher electricity bills to finance it.

“People readily understand we need transmission lines,” explains Skelly, who along with other Clean Line executives has been holding “open houses” along several potential 500-mile (805km) corridors where the Rock Island project could be routed. Thus far, each of the 26 meetings has drawn between 100 and 120 people.

“We also get a lot of information from them such as sensitive areas and ecosystems to avoid. It helps us do a better job,” he says.

Among the benefits of using HVDC lines is that they use a smaller tower footprint and narrower right-of-way for an equivalent amount of power transfer than alternating-current (AC) lines, which could reduce opposition from critics who view the towers as a visual blight.

After receiving and evaluating public input, the developer will submit preferred routes to the Iowa Utilities Board and the Illinois Commerce Commission, the primary siting authorities in the respective states. Additional permits or approvals will also be required from other federal, state and local government bodies.

Clean Line sees Siemens as a powerful ally in helping build political support for the Rock Island project at local and national levels. It has a strong corporate presence in the US, with 70,000 employees, and its burgeoning wind-energy business includes turbine-component production plants in territory where the Rock Island line would be located.

That point is not lost on Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who calls Siemens a “natural fit”.

Siemens has no plans to take an equity stake in the project.

Clean Line’s four projects will spark “tremendous” rural economic development and thousands of mainly temporary construction jobs. Once built, it says, they will be a strong incentive for further wind farm development and provide economic benefits to local steel, cable and equipment suppliers, as well as servicing providers.

Voltage losses in HVDC long-distance lines are 30-40% less than from AC cables.

Skelly believes Clean Line will not have problems financing the project once it decides a proper technical design and obtains regulatory approvals.

“There is a lot of capital looking for transmission,” he says. “We are going to come up with a project that makes sense.”

Houston-based Clean Line has four high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) projects that aim to transport wind power to urban centres:

The $1.7bn, 805km Rock Island Clean Line, linking western Iowa to Illinois.

The $3.5bn, 1,287km Plains and Eastern Clean Line, which will connect the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles and southwest Kansas to the US Southeast.

The $2.5bn, 1,448km Centennial West Clean Line, which will connect northeast New Mexico to California.

The $1.7bn, 885km Grain Belt Express, from western Kansas to southeast Missouri and points farther east.