Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) — ITC Holdings Corp. said it wants to build the world’s largest renewable-energy transmission system, a $12 billion project to bring electricity from wind farms in the Dakotas to Chicago

e Michigan power transmission company’s proposal, known as Green Power Express, calls for about 3,000 miles of new lines that could move 12,000 megawatts of power from the upper Midwest to cities where there’s demand for the electricity. The project, to be announced today, would cross portions of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, according to ITC.
President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to double its use of renewable energy in three years. During the presidential campaign, Obama singled out as an example the need to get wind power from North Dakota to “population centers, like Chicago.” ITC needs changes in U.S. regulations to get the project built as Obama envisioned, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Welch said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“What we really need is the federal government to start to make some needed rule changes or modifications,” said Welch.

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Under current regulations, the project wouldn’t meet requirements to pay back the needed investment soon enough.

Wind power accounted for 1.5 percent of total U.S. power generating capacity in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration. A study by the Energy Department found wind could provide as much as 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030.

15,000 Miles

ITC of Novi, Michigan, already operates 15,000 miles of transmission lines, according to Welch. The company, a former unit of Michigan-based DTE Energy Co., went public in 2005 after Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Trimaran Capital Partners LLC bought it.

ITC rose 62 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $43.26 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading on Feb. 6 and has fallen 19 percent in the past 12 months.

ITC intends to make a filing today with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking approval of a 12.3 percent return rate for the project, as well as the ability to recover some funds before construction is completed, according to the company. Costs of the line would be shared among electricity customers across multiple states.

The company is also suggesting the federal agency gather state regulators, utilities and others affected by the new lines to collaborate on how the project could get the multiple approvals it would need.

The project would fail existing requirements for approval of new power lines in the Midwest. Welch said the current system doesn’t encourage projects that would help the renewable power industry and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Nine Coal-Fired Plants

A study of the project for ITC by CRA International Inc. found the wind power that could be transmitted would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 million metric tons, the equivalent of the annual emissions of as many as nine 600- megawatt coal-fired power plants.

Welch said his company has approached wind-project developers who are interested in using the new system to connect their facilities.

There is currently a 46-year wait for projects seeking to connect to the grid operated by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc., Welch said.

“The wind we’re connecting in the Dakotas is some of the highest quality onshore wind development in the country,” said Welch. “There is so much pent-up potential for wind generation in the Dakotas, everything is like race horses waiting to go.”

Construction of the project would be done in phases, and ITC is looking for partners from among the utilities whose service territory the lines would traverse. Construction could begin in 24 months, and power could start flowing three years after that, said Welch.

“We don’t need studies, we don’t need the money to finance it,” Welch said. “We need people to give us the change in rules and regulations that allow us to get it built.”

Source: Bloomberg

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