Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No More Power Lines?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No More Power Lines?

Article excerpt

Buried super-cooled electrical cables may replace towering transmission lines and carry solar and wind energy efficiently over long distances.

Abundant solar and wind power lies across America's vast plains and

deserts, but getting that distant renewable energy to cities without

wrecking vistas and raising lawsuits over transmission lines is a

sizable hurdle for green-leaning utility companies. Thousands of

miles of towering electrical lines will be needed before big

alternative-energy projects can take hold. Yet such power lines

portend years of legal snarls over the not-in-my-backyard problem.

Into this fray comes Phil Harris and his pioneering plan to use

underground superconducting cables that will be both hidden from view

and more efficient than traditional lines. Mr. Harris wants to build

a virtually invisible network that would create a national

renewable-energy hub located in the Southwest.

Today, the nation's power grid is in three disconnected pieces -

Eastern, Western, and Texas. Harris's project, called Tres Amigas,

would use superconducting cable to provide the first large-scale

commercial trading link between those big grids - opening up new

markets for renewable wind and solar power in the American East and

West.

These superconducting cables contain special materials chilled to

superlow temperatures, allowing electricity to flow efficiently, with

little resistance. While Harris's "hub" would run in a loop, it

would demonstrate the potential for superconducting power lines that

could travel long distances and eliminate the 7 percent of

electricity wasted by ugly, above-ground transmission lines.

In papers filed in early December with the Federal Energy Regulatory

Commission, Tres Amigas outlined its plans for a $600 million, 15- to

20-mile triangular-shaped hub near Clovis, N.M., constructed using

superconducting cable.

Such a trading hub could spur investment in wind and solar power

development in many states around the region, say officials with

Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The company is weighing

construction of a new "wind collector" transmission line to

connect new wind farms in the east-central part of the state with

Tres Amigas, if the new transmission hub is built.

Today, PNM has "no significant ability" to move power to the

eastern US or to Texas, says Greg Miller, lead engineering and

operations director for PNM. While power lines that run west to

California remain congested, Tres Amigas would open up the other two

markets - allowing development of New Mexico wind power.

"We have very rich potential for renewable-energy development,

particularly with wind in the east-central part of our state," Mr.

Miller says. With at least 10,000 megawatts of wind power development

currently waiting for transmission lines to be built, "we think

[the hub] could be the trigger that will allow us to move forward."

The supercooled cables from American Superconductor, the nation's

largest maker of superconducting cable, are already being used in

small projects by the Long Island Power Authority, American Electric

Power, and National Grid. Perhaps two dozen locations worldwide rely

on superconducting cable, but often it is to connect key stations

less than a mile from each other.

Tres Amigas would be a "game changer," company officials say.

"What we're starting to see is a new phase in commercialization

of superconducting cable - not just in this country but

globally," says Daniel McGahn, senior vice president and general

manager of American Superconductor in Westborough, Mass. …

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