Mitsui backs Tres Amigas’ super grid hub

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Last month I reported that Tres Amigas, a startup with an audacious proposal to build a transmission hub to connect the U.S.’s three major grids in the east, west and Texas, was looking to raise $15 million in funding to try to move forward with its design. Well, word is out on Wednesday morning that one of its new funders is Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, which will invest $12 million in the project.

Mitsui says it will take an equity stake and also participate in the super grid hub project, and Tres Amigas’ CEO Phillip Harris notes in a statement that Mitsui will be in a good position to provide IT assistance with the grid hub.

Tres Amigas’ plan is to build a so-called “SuperStation” — the mother of all substations — which would convert alternating current (AC) from the three grids into direct current (DC) and then back to AC in order to move the electricity back out onto the three grids in an efficient and reliable way. The entire project is supposed to cost a whopping $1.5 billion and will be built out in phases.

Tres Amigas says that the engineering design for Phase I of the project “is well underway,” with construction scheduled to start in 2012. Though Phase I of commercial operations won’t start until 2015. That is, assuming the project can raised more funding. The $12 million from Mitsui is a good start, but just a drop in the bucket.

Some other potential hurdles for the project include: bureaucracy and working with FERC, and NIMBY for people in the area of the SubStation and the transmission lines connecting it. Tres Amigas has also teamed up with other startup partners to work on the project, including battery grid storage company Xtreme Power, and energy software provider Viridity Energy.

In August, Tres Amigas said it planned to submit filings with FERC later this year, which would include a first “anchor” customer contract. Harris, the former CEO of PJM Interconnection, founded the company, and Tres Amigas plans to charge a fee for use of the SuperStation.

The SuperStation is supposed to use superconducting cables from American Superconductor Corp., which can carry 5,000 MW of electricity and are super-chilled to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Many transmission leaders think high-voltage direct current power lines will be a key to remaking the power grid.

The company is positioning the SuperStation as a way to get more renewable energy on the grid, as the station can link intermittent clean power like solar and wind from remote regions and connect it to cities that will us it.

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