Rock Island HVDC Project opposition remains befuddled

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance (PRIA), the group opposed to Rock Island Clean Line's proposed high voltage direct current (HVDC) wind energy power line originating in O'Brien County to the 765 kV Collins Substation in Grundy County, Ill, apprently doesn't understand the mode of operation and business model for Rock Island's project.

State Representative Dan Huseman (left) and State Senator David Johnson at the "Eggs and Issues" Legislative Forum in Spencer on March 15, 2014. Photo contributed.

At the March 15, 2014 Spencer Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues legislative forum, a Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance leader spoke at length against the transmission line project and asked numerous questions of those state legislators present. Jerry Crew, a fermer from Webb, remains one of the more outspoken opponents of the $2 billion project since early in July of 2013 when Rock Island's preferred route was officially announced.

Legislators present at this last Eggs & Issues forum were Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, State Senator David Johnson and State Representatives Dan Huseman and Megan Hess.

Crew requested time to question the legislators. Crew began, "I'm Jerry Crew a no-till farmer from Webb, Iowa and a member of the Preservation of the Rural Iowa Alliance. This is 44 years of my life on this farm and it's going to be cut in two by this Rock Island Clean Line.

"My question involves something that we haven't talked about. Lt. Gov. Reynolds, I don't even think we talked about this when we met with you and the Governor a couple of months ago. What happens when the wind doesn't blow?" questioned Crew.

"We have this 3500 megawatt (MW) transmission line going through my farm carrying wind energy. And where is the power coming from when the wind doesn't blow?

"The wind blows 40% of the time and generates electricity. Sixty percent of the time the power is going to have to come from somewhere else."

Johnson discussed MidAmerican Energy's O'Brien County wind farm for a moment. "We're not talking about MidAmerican," Crew insisted. "We're talking about Clean Line which is completely different. All the power is exported out of Iowa."

"Your issue is if the wind doesn't blow," said Johnson. "But it does here in NW Iowa. That's why wind turbine companies are locating here. MidAmerican Energy has plans for locating 200 and some wind turbines in O'Brien County. They aren't doing that because the wind doesn't blow. It does. That's the issue."

"Well that's my point," answered Crew. "Where is the power going to come from? Yeah. It seems like it's been blowing every day this winter. And it probably has. But, 60 % of the time the wind doesn't blow, long time average, particularly in the summer time. It isn't going to make power. Where is the power going to come from? The customers on the other end of this line are going to want power 24/7. Where is that power going to come from?" Crew continued to question.

"Well, all of our power doesn't come from the wind anyway," said Johnson. "It's a grid that's controlled by the federal regulators who are drawing power from wherever they can and they're getting it delivered to the customer. We're not blacking out in this country," Johnson pointed out.

"This is the point, David. They are taking it from the grid which is from the coal plants and so forth. And they say Iowan's can't access this power because it's direct current. Iowa is loosing electricity because of this," Crew claimed.

"We're already exporting electricity. We're generating enough power to take care of this state. Again, I don't understand," said Johnson.

"In Iowa, we don't need it," Lt. Gov Reynolds interjected.

"First of all, David, do we have the capacity to store wind energy?" was Crew's next question.

"No," replied Johnson.

"When the wind doesn't blow, where does that energy come from?" Crew continued to ask.

"Well, it comes from other sources such as coal and nuclear and natural gas," said Johnson. "So, what does this have to do with the Iowa Utilities Board process? I'm going to be right up front with you, Jerry.

"What does this have to do with the process of putting an application in for a franchise to the IUB which is an independent agency of government which will weigh in the facts that you present and that Rock Island Clean Line presents and then decide whether a franchise is granted," said Senator Johnson.

"That's exactly right," said Crew.

"What they have to prove is if the project serves a public purpose, that there's a public use served by this. And Iowa law states that that power doesn't have to be consumed in Iowa," said Johnson.

"That's open to interpretation," Crew alleged.

"No, it's not! No, it's not, Jerry," said Johnson. "It says explicitly in state law that public does not mean that it has to be used in Iowa," Johnson reasoned. "I have quoted you that time after time. The IUB doesn't care about what happens with what you call 'when the wind doesn't blow'. That's not part of what they do."

"Anybody else like to comment on my basic question; where's the power going to come from when the wind doesn't blow?" Crew uttered.

"I'd like to hear Representative Huseman answer my basic question. Where is the power going to come from for the Rock Island Clean Line when the wind doesn't blow?"

Huseman replied, "I think that question has already been answered. I mean, I don't have any other answers I can give you."

"It should come from the grid," Crew stated.

"Where does it come from now like down in my area where there are windmills?" Huseman questioned.

"The coal plant in Sioux City and the hydroelectric from South Dakota," Crew responded.

After dealing with this issue since PRIA was formed last summer, their leaders still say they don't comprehend the mode of operation or business model for Rock Island's 3,500 MW project which ships excess wind generated electricity east. Crew mistakenly assumes the 600,000 volt DC power line operates in an energized state 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days of the year. That's simply not so.

Clean Line Energy Partners officials from Houston, Texas visited Northwest Iowa Community College campus at Sheldon on Wed., Jan. 23, 2013. Company Vice President Wayne Galli and Rock Island Director of Development Hans Detweiler discussed their wind energy transmission line project in considerable detail.

Galli, with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, explained meticulously how their HVDC projects will operate. Galli answered numerous serious questions from students taking electrical, power lineman and substation technician courses and 15 area utility company employees.

Interconnections with existing transmission systems are required at each end. "Here in O'Brien County we interconnect with MidAmerican Energy for voltage support," Galli explained to the students. A strong voltage reference source at each end is solely required for the actual AC to DC conversion process to begin.

Though Rock Island's DC power line is advertised as a 3,500 MW transmission system, it has the capability designed into it to ship a maximum of 4,200 MW of wind energy. But, a student asked, "What's the minimum amount of power that can flow into the converter station and onto the line?"

Galli replied, "Roughly 10% of any pole. So, it would be about 175 MW if you're operating in monopole mode and about 350 MW, if it's in the bi-pole mode."

"So, it's perhaps one wind farm that can be put on the line," the questioner asked?

"Technically, that's a challenge from a systems perspective because you can't ramp up from 0 to 175 MW. So, typically, the converter station is off, it's off, it's off, it's off and then you start to introduce 175 MW of power from the wind farms. From a systems control and interaction perspective, that's a standard way of operation," Galli explained.

When the wind in a 70-mile radius of the converter station isn't blowing, some of the load carried on MidAmerican Energy's 345 kV power line is not diverted through the Rock Island converter station and changed to DC voltage as Crew suggests. In effect, when the wind isn't blowing, the converter station and 600,000 volt DC power line are de-energized. So, that addresses many of Crew's concerns.

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