American Electric Power Co., the country’s largest producer of electricity from coal, has begun studying the possibility of building a 1,000-mile transmission line to connecting wind farms scattered across the Upper Midwest, the company announced yesterday. The project, now in a “conceptual stage,” would involve high-voltage (765 kilo-volt) transmission lines, cost anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion, and be built in phases over the course of a decade.
“The Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa have some of the very best wind generation resources in the United States,” AEP chairman, president and CEO, Michael Morris, was quoted as saying in the company announcement, “but the wind potential in this region cannot be developed unless we build a very efficient transmission superhighway to bring this clean, renewable generation to population and electricity load centers.”
AEP’s envisioned “transmission superhighway” comes as part of a growing push for infrastructure to allow integration of renewable energy projects into the national electricity grid. As we’ve noted before, energy consulting firm The Brattle Group anticipates that more investment — as much as $2 trillion — may be needed for transmission and distribution networks than actual energy-generating projects. Al Gore has called for investment of $400 billion over the next decade for a grid that allows urban population centers to draw renewable energy directly from the sunniest and windiest remote areas, such as northeastern North Dakota, where AEP plans to link up with a Hartland Wind Farm project slated to begin construction in 2010.
For AEP, all of this will be easier if it gets its way with President-elect Barack Obama’s planned economic stimulus package. As Bloomberg reported yesterday, the company is calling for language that would grease the wheels for infrastructure financing and siting (laying 1,000 miles of transmission lines means first negotiating with a lot of property owners). “Obama gets that you can’t just build windmills and wish for the power to get where it needs to go,” said Susan Tomasky, president of AEP Transmission. “It is all about infrastructure.”