A Michigan company hopes to construct the “Green Power Express” – a network of transmission lines spread across the Midwest that would surge with 12,000 megawatts of wind-generated power

The grid would cross the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. It eventually would include 3,000 miles of 756,000-volt transmission lines to deliver wind power to Chicago and points east. Just 1 megawatt of generated power can supply 300 homes; the Green Power Express promises to deliver wind-generated power to 3.6 million homes.

“A robust transmission system is critical to the nation’s energy solution,” Joseph Welch, chairman and chief executive of ITC Holdings Corp., said during an investor conference call Monday. “The Green Power Express is a portion of a bigger ITC vision of a super-regional, high-voltage transmission backbone.”

Novi, Mich.-based ITC also on Monday filed its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for rate and incentives to help build the $10 billion to $12 billion network, which could come online by 2020.

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Timeline in flux

“It could take up to five years to get to construction on this project, but we could be there in two – if the right regulatory reforms are adopted in the developing energy policy and legislation,” Welch said.

The $838 billion stimulus package being touted by President Obama includes about $40 billion in alternative energy development. But it is up to Congress to determine how projects are planned, approved and funded, Welch said.

“This thing could be facilitated for starting construction as early as in the next 24 months – but if we stay on the current track, it’ll probably never happen in my lifetime,” Welch said. “I think there’s adequate money to fund this. We have to have rule changes.”

“I have proposed legislation to create clean energy corridors that would streamline the siting and permitting of these lines in areas with a great potential for renewable energy production,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “It’s critical that Congress address this issue soon – and I hope my legislation will help move the process forward.”

Six of the seven states where the Green Power Express would traverse are among the top 20 states for wind energy potential, according to the American Wind Energy Association. North Dakota ranks first in potential, with South Dakota fourth.

Savings to pile up

However, much of that promise is in rural areas – far from the nation’s hungriest consumers.

“With an abundance of wind, South Dakota stands ready and willing to contribute to a new energy economy and to help meet the energy load demands in other parts of the country,” said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. “Clearly, innovative approaches to this complex challenge are needed, and there are a variety of proposals that will have to be evaluated, with full input from South Dakotans.”

The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator released a study Monday that estimates it will cost $80 billion or more to build the 15,000 miles of transmission lines needed to supply 20 percent of the energy needs for the eastern United States from wind by 2024. But building those lines would save consumers $12 billion annually and could recoup capital investments in as little as seven years.

“The study reinforces what we’ve been saying for some time – upgrading the power grid to access our nation’s world-class wind power resources is a win-win for consumers and the environment,” said AWEA policy director Rob Gramlich.

Supplying network

Welch said ITC is working toward partnerships with energy companies to supply the network. Utilities and wind developers that already have expressed support include NorthWestern Energy, NextEra Energy, Iberdrola Renewables, Generation Energy Inc., Montgomery Power Partners, Denali Energy, National Wind, Crownbutte Wind Power, Wind Capital Group and RES Americas.

Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables has two existing wind farms near White – the 54-megawatt Minn-Dakota farm that came online in April and the 55-megawatt Buffalo Ridge I that will come online this year. The company has proposed building a 306-megawatt farm in Brookings and Deuel counties, Buffalo Ridge II, that would almost triple the state’s total production of wind energy.

“The companies around the table proposing this, they’ve done some projects,” said South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Dusty Johnson. “They’ve got as good a chance at doing this as well as anyone else. The size of this project, it just boggles the mind.”

The U.S. wind industry ended 2008 by generating 25,170 megawatts and moved ahead of Germany into first place for global capacity, according to the AWEA.

“The proposed project is a great economic development opportunity for South Dakota,” Gov. Mike Rounds said. “This project will provide new transmission lines that can export our abundant wind resource to higher population areas in the east. This project’s new transmission lines will also provide more redundancy in South Dakota’s transmission system, which will improve the reliability of South Dakota’s power system. My staff has been discussing transmission with ITC for some time, and we are encouraged by the proposed Green Power Express.”

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