U.S. energy firm wins National Energy Board OK for $1B cross-border, power line under Lake Erie
A map of the proposed route of the ITC Lake Erie Connector Project - a $1 billion underwater electricity line that links Ontario to 13 U.S. states. (Contributed/ITC Lake Erie Connector Project)
It would be a Lake Erie first, allowing Ontario to both export power to 13 American states and import it.
One expert likens it to an international highway for electricity, not vehicles.
A $1-billion, high-voltage power line running under Erie, farther than the distance between London and Kitchener, is one step closer to reality following approval by Canada’s energy regulator.
After nearly two years of review, Michigan-based ITC, a private energy company, has won approval from the National Energy Board (NEB) to build a 117-kilometre, two-way transmission line between Nanticoke, on Southwestern Ontario’s Lake Erie shore, and Erie, Pa., across the lake.
“We’ve cleared the hurdles on the major milestones,” said Terry Harvill, president of ITC Grid Development.
“The NEB approval was a big one. That really gave us confidence in the project moving forward.”
POWER PLAY from A1
When the line is complete and ready for commercial use, in 2021 by ITC estimates, it will carry power between Ontario and 13 U.S. states with a market population of 61 million.
The ambitious project comes in the wake of controversies involving the energy file in Ontario, where
power bills essentially have doubled over a decade amid the province’s plunge into costly green energy, an issue expected to loom large in next year’s provincial election.
On top of that, Ontario runs power surpluses that add to the cost to taxpayers and ratepayers.
Last week, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers reported Ontario wasted enough green energy last year alone — power that was generated, but essentially dumped — to power 760,000 homes for a year.
The Lake Erie Connector Project would make it easier for Ontario to sell some of its surplus electricity, which Harvill said could be used to help reduce the soaring cost of power in the province.
“If there’s power sold from Ontario into the U.S., if there’s a premium that’s gained from that, it goes back to government and then those proceeds could be used to lower customer bills,” he said.
“Since the government owns most of the generators, the money flows directly back to them.”
The proposed line also gives Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator the option to import electricity if needed down the road.
With major upgrades coming to Ontario’s nuclear power plants, refurbishments that will take reactors offline for long periods, Ontario will be able not only to sell surplus power into the U.S. through the line, but also to bring in juice from across the border, said Harvill.
Ontario power distributor Hydro One first had the idea for an underwater transmission line in the early 2000s, but backed away from the massive project, said Jatin Nathwani, executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy.
Now, almost two decades later, the project makes economic and environmental sense, he said. Instead of moving into their own green energy, U.S. states might choose to import it.
“Canada has much to gain and is in a much better position than some of the U.S. states. We have lots of hydro and non-carbon sources of energy,” he said.
“This is like building a highway, really, that allows you to go back and forth and then suppliers or people who are producing electricity can optimize their systems.”
NEB clearance marks the end of the project’s major permit application process in Canada. The company now awaits a green light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with more detailed cost predictions and transmission agreements, before construction can begin.
From its $1-billion cost to its multi-stage construction, there’s nothing modest about the project.
The six-inch (15-centimetre)cable will stretch 117 km from Pennsylvania to Haldimand County, deep beneath Erie’s bed.
The specialized line will be made in Finland and shipped across the Atlantic to its final destination, a process that could take as long as a year.
When construction begins, crews will lay the line down on the lake bed and use water jets to sink it into a trench. Erie’s natural //word missing?// will help sediment settle over the line.
While workers hit the high seas, crews on land in Nanticoke and Erie will build stations to connect the underwater line to the power grid. ITC will broker agreements with producers on both sides of the border interested in exporting electricity.
For Harvill and ITC, the underwater transmission line is a chance for both countries to reach new markets without the whopping upfront cost.
“In this case, ITC is bearing the financial burden of developing the line,” said Harvill.
“You get all the benefits of a line connected to Ontario without really having the cost responsibilities that go along with it.”
2011– Market research and pre-feasibility study
2013 – System interconnection agreement applications filed
2014 – Environmental assessments and basic engineering
2015 – National Energy Board and U.S. Dept. of Energy permit applications filed
May 2015 – Geophysical assessment of Lake Erie floor completed
Nov. 2015 – Rock core assessment of lakebed completed
Jan. 2017 – U.S. Department of Energy grants Presidential Permit
May 2017 – Two permits granted by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
June 2017 – Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity granted by National Energy Board
2020 – Construction and testing
2021 – Projected commercial operation date
ITC Lake Erie Connector
By the numbers
1,000 MW – Capacity of two-way high voltage line
117 km – Length of line
$1 billion – Estimated total cost
2021 – Target operation date