Transmission key to Nevada renewables growth
Northern and southern Nevada can now swap and even export the state’s valuable renewable energy thanks to a new transmission line.
The One Nevada Transmission Line, or ON Line, a 500 kilovolt, 800 megawatt capacity line, started transporting electricity minutes before New Year’s Day this year.
The 231-mile-long line runs between the Robinson Summit Substation, 20 miles west of Ely, to the Harry Allen Substation north of Las Vegas, connecting southern and northern Nevada for the first time.
“It enables resources that were previously more isolated to be transported now,” says Stacey Kusters, vice president for renewable energy and origination for NV Energy.
That’s good news for renewable energy development in the state, now largely made up of geothermal energy in the north and solar projects in the south, which before ON Line could only be consumed locally.
“It allows us the balance out our system,” says Kusters. “It allows us to optimize our resources.”
Southern Nevada uses more energy in the summer, when temperatures are high, but the scales tip to northern Nevada in the winter, says Paul Thomsen, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy and a former executive with Ormat Technologies Inc., the geothermal energy company.
“Helping shift that load (between north and south) makes the system more efficient,” he says.
Also, perhaps equally important to the state and to renewable energy producers, ON Line enables energy exports.
The Nevada Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that by 2025 25 percent of the energy sold by NV Energy to retail customers be generated by renewable sources, is so far being easily met. In fact, there may be talk during the upcoming Nevada legislative session of eliminating the RPS, proponents of that saying it has served its purpose.
Either way, the renewable energy industry here could continue to grow if it had more customers than NV Energy.
Ormat, for example, is using ON Line to wheel, or transport, geothermal energy from its Don A. Campbell plant in Mineral County to the Mead Substation in Boulder City in order to fulfill a contract serving the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water.
ON Line is a piece of a transmission chain being developed that could eventually connect Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and California.
The next two pieces are called the Southwest Intertie Project Northern Portion, a 275-mile transmission line that would connect the Robinson Summit Substation in Ely to the Midpoint Substation in Twin Falls, Idaho, and the Southern Nevada Intertie Project, a 60-mile line that would tie the Harry Allen Substation to the Eldorado Substation south of Boulder City to service southern California.
But it’s unclear at this point how the two projects will be financed and built. The ON Line is jointly owned by NV Energy, which has a 25 percent share, and Great Basin Transmission LLC, an affiliate of LS Power, a New York-based power company, which owns the remaining 75 percent.
But the line primarily transports electricity intrastate while the new projects would be more about exporting energy, a project for which the utility’s ratepayers probably wouldn’t want to bear the cost.
NV Energy’s Kusters says NV Energy continues to evaluate its transmission projects, including the northern and douthern extensions of ON Line. Thomsen says the utility could consider creating a separate business for it because the transmission lines do generate revenue through wheeling charges.
He says the governor’s energy office is working with California Independent System Operator to conduct an economic benefit study on the southern Nevada portion and otherwise trying to expedite the process.
“The governor’s office is working with a lot of stakeholders with permitting. We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Land Management and we’re working with NV Energy to figure out the best route,” says Thomsen. “Transmission is going to be imperative to energy production in the West and it allows Nevada to benefit from renewables.”
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