Alternative Energy Infrastructure

Jeff Siegel

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted August 23, 2010

In the 1999 movie Office Space, there’s a great bit of dialogue where three workers discuss the question What would you do if you had a million dollars?

I’ll share the exchange with you here…

Peter: “Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if you had a million dollars, and didn’t have to work. And invariably, whatever we would say, that was supposed to be our careers. If you wanted to build cars, then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.”

Samir: “So what did you say?”

Peter: “I never had an answer. I guess that’s why I’m working at Initech.”

Michael: “No, you’re working at Initech because that question is BS to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there would be no janitors, because no one would want to clean up sh** if they had a million dollars.”

I remember a similar scenario that my guidance counselor presented to me in high school… And had this scenario played out in real life, you wouldn’t be reading this right now, and I’d be a professional skateboarder.

But I suppose most kids go through this, pondering what exactly it is that they want to do with their life.

My freshman year in college, I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be the guy that took on the crooked politicians and spent countless hours volunteering for little old ladies getting booted out of their apartments by a heartless landlord who twirled the ends of his mustache like a Dastardly Whiplash.

Then my cousin — who is a lawyer — schooled me on the “non-glamorous” realities of that profession. It didn’t take much more than a day to realize that the illusion I had in my head didn’t even come close to matching the reality of his job.

His days were not spent peacocking around in front of juries, putting bad guys behind bars… His days were spent clearing paths through jungles of bureaucracy for his clients.

I have to be honest, I wouldn’t last two days doing that kind of work. I just don’t have the patience.

Thankfully, I have a friend who‘s a lawyer — and he is usually more than happy to decipher the power purchase agreements and regulatory filings that I use when analyzing market movements in the energy sector.

Now last week, he gave me a call and wanted to know if I had heard about the latest approval from the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (Midwest ISO) regarding a new transmission line project in Michigan.

Yes, he actually called to ask me this question. I’m telling you, this stuff is his life!

But in many ways, it’s ours, too.

You see, electric infrastructure may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world… But when it comes to the development of alternative energy, infrastructure is crucial.

In fact I’m not even interested in covering a new solar or wind developer unless I know that there’s either transmission already in place, or it’s at least actively being built.

I don’t care how exciting your technology is or how much funding you have lined up; when it comes to power — if you can’t move it, you can’t use it. It’s that simple.

And this is why we spend so much time following the development of grid upgrades and expansions.

Well, that and the fact that some of these infrastructure projects can make us even more money than the solar, wind, and geothermal projects they’re intended to support…

A pretty big deal

Last Thursday, ITC Holdings Corp. (NYSE: ITC) announced that it had received approval from the Midwest ISO for the company’s Thumb Loop high-voltage electric transmission line project in Michigan.

This is actually a pretty big deal.

You see, this project is intended to serve as the backbone of a transmission system that will deliver wind power from Michigan’s “Thumb” area (a subregion of the Flint/Tri-Cities region) to locations where it’s needed.

And thanks to the Midwest ISO’s approval, ITC can finally apply to the Michigan Public Service Commission for expedited siting approval of the project  — which by statute is defined as a maximum of six months.

Of course, this project is also just one part of ITC’s grand plan for integrating more domestic wind power.

You see, ITC has launched a project called the Green Power Express — a broad network of 765 kV transmission facilities designed to move up to 12,000 megawatts of renewable energy in wind-rich areas to major Midwest load centers.

Once built, the project will cross the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, using about 3,000 miles of extra high-voltage transmission.

Take a look:


Of course, when it comes to infrastructure development, we’re still moving at a snail’s pace — thanks mostly to a shaky economy and continued complacency in Washington, where bureaucrats are more concerned with the next election than they are with strengthening our energy economy.

Nonetheless, we continue to focus a lot of time and attention on these transmission projects, because the reality is the U.S. will continue to increase power generation in order to meet future demand.

And in the process, new transmission projects will have to be built out and upgraded in order to facilitate this new power generation  — most of which will be coming from alternative energy sources, like wind, solar and geothermal.

To a new way of life, and a new generation of wealth…

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