Volts:

A company called Direct Connect is currently in the development and permitting phase of a privately financed, $2.5 billion project called the SOO Green HVDC Link, a proposed 349-mile, 2.1-gigawatt (!), 525-kilovolt transmission line to run underground along existing railroad from Mason City, Iowa, to the Chicago, Illinois, area. It aims to go into operation in 2024.

Going underground will allow the line to minimize environmental and visual impact. It will be much more resilient than an overhead line against weather, temperature shifts, sabotage, or squirrels

Two side-by-side cables will run through tubes of Cross-Linked Polyethylene (XLPE) and will be self-contained, lightweight, and easy to handle. They won’t get hot, interfere with signaling equipment (unlike AC lines), or affect rail operations. There are fiber-optic sensors along the lines to monitor sound and heat for any problems. 

(Nemo Link, the world’s first 400 kilovolt line using XLPE, runs undersea between the UK and Belgium; it began operation in January 2019.)

Running alongside the railroad means SOO Green will have no need to claim land via eminent domain. Almost all of that railroad is owned by Canadian Pacific (one of seven large “class one” railroads in the US), so there are a tractable number of parties to deal with. 

A deal like this offers railroads a new passive revenue stream; royalty fees well exceed what they get from similarly buried fiber-optic lines, of which there are more than 100,000 miles along US railroads. And it’s also a chance for railroads to be part of a positive sustainability story. 

The project is privately funded, so there will be no need for any complicated cost-allocation formulas. The financiers (including Siemens, which very rarely puts direct capital in transmission projects) will make their money back from those who use the line — the suppliers that put power on it, the shippers that sell power across it, and the buyers that consume the power — through competitive bidding for capacity. SOO Green is holding an open solicitation right now to allocate its 2,100 megawatts among them.

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