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No more power lines?

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

Sign of the past? Superconductor cables could replace transmission lines, such as these in Los Banos, Calif.

Newscom/file

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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 no resistance. The only lost energy goes toward refrigerating the cables. 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.

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