By 2020, power generated by Wyoming wind could find its way to California, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada.
Simply put, Wyoming wind’s greatest potential customers likely live outside the state. But something’s got to bring the power there.
Plans continue to remedy that problem.
In Wyoming, at least six interstate transmission lines have been discussed. If all come online, nearly 13,500 megawatts of electricity generated mostly in Wyoming could find its way to renewables-hungry customers elsewhere.
That’s a lot of power. And a lot of potential projects to serve that need.
But first, the lines have to be built.
Among the projects most likely to come to fruition first is the Wyoming-Colorado Intertie, also the shortest line proposed to travel through Wyoming.
The WCI is a collaborative project between the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, a governmental body charged with diversifying Wyoming’s economy, and LS Power.
Loyd Drain, WIA executive director, said LS Power is expected to take over maintenance and ownership of the $300 million line once it’s built. The state would also get back any investments it’s made in the project.
The 180-mile line would run from Laramie River Station outside of Wheatland, then south to near Brush, Colo. It would be capable of carrying about 900 megawatts, all of which has been bought by Platte County-based Wyoming Wind and Power.
The WIA and the University of Wyoming have teamed in an attempt to show Colorado power marketers that Wyoming wind is a better resource. The University Wind Research Center in April released a study which said Wyoming’s wind was stronger and better-timed than Colorado’s.
Drain said it would also reduce variability, a major criticism of wind power.
“That variability costs ratepayers money,” he said.
Crews are expected to start work on the line sometime in 2014, with full service coming possibly by 2017. Drain said before work can be talked about, Wyoming Wind and Power needs to sign purchase agreements.
Another of the first lines to come online could be Gateway West, a collaborative effort between Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power.
The proposed line would carry about 1,500 megawatts along a line from the Windstar substation outside of Glenrock to the Hemingway substation, about 30 miles southwest of Boise, Idaho, hugging Interstate 80 along the way.
Gateway West is only one part of PacifiCorp’s larger Energy Gateway initiative, which includes at least one other line planned for Wyoming and several in Utah and the Northwest. The entire initiative is expected to cost $6 billion.
Company spokeswoman Margaret Oler said the project will stabilize PacifiCorp’s infrastructure, a plus for customers.
“It adds capacity and enhances reliability,” she said. “Those are two prominent things we are concerned about with our customers, and why these projects were conceived in the first place.”
PacifiCorp’s lines are also different than several planned in the West in that they will be equipped to collect and transmit power to and from several locations along the route, rather than taking power from one source and transmitting it to one place.
A final environmental study of the project was released by the federal Bureau of Land Management in late April. The public will be allowed to comment until late June, and a final decision is likely this fall.
The company won’t start construction immediately, though. Oler said there’s still some planning and design to be completed.
If all goes to plan, the line could be under construction by 2016, meaning segments would quickly join the grid. By 2021, the entire line should be up and running. The company hadn’t yet signed deals to transmit power from specific projects.
“That’s a constantly evolving process,” Oler said.
Gateway South is another part of PacifiCorp’s larger initiative.
The proposed line runs from the Aeolus substation northeast of Rawlins to a substation near Mona, Utah, following a 400-mile path.
Oler said her company envisions Gateway South coming into service later than Gateway West. The company held initial public comment meetings in 2011 and is awaiting the first release of a draft environmental study of the line.
“We don’t expect it for a while,” she said, adding that the company hopes to bring the project online between 2017 and 2020.
Oler said that although both Wyoming Gateway projects are years away from serving customers, the company is making progress on other aspects of the initiative in other states.
“We have projects that are already completed, in service, going into service, and under construction, as well as projects going through permitting,” she said. “Work is progressing.”
Another project — this time tied specifically to a major Wyoming generation project — could also start generation in 2017 and create between 10 and 20 full-time jobs.
The TransWest Express transmission project, owned by a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., will carry power generated at the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind project.
The 725-mile line will be capable of transporting about 3,000 megawatts and will follow a path from just south of Rawlins to the southern tip of Nevada.
The project won’t be exclusively tied to the massive wind project, but company spokeswoman Kara Choquette said TransWest will incorporate as many Wyoming generation projects as possible.
“Wyoming has a long history of being a low-cost energy producer,” she said. “It’s the same with renewables as well.”
Progress continues toward final approval of the project, which could also affect the production timeline for Chokecherry and Sierra Madre.
The first draft of an environmental study is due this summer. The company expects to begin building the line in late 2014 and activating it after three years of construction, which could create as many as 1,500 temporary jobs.
Choquette said the transmission line — a major player in Wyoming’s efforts to export wind power to California — would be a step forward.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” she said. “This path to market is critical for Wyoming.”
The preferred route for another Wyoming interstate transmission line was announced in March.
Duke-American Transmission Co., a Charlotte-based partnership of Duke Energy and American Transmission, announced that month that it would apply to site its 3,000-megawatt Zephyr transmission line on a line running from just south of Chugwater to southern Nevada.
The $3.5 billion line will span about 150 miles of Wyoming, including portions of Albany and Carbon counties, before exiting the state just west of Baggs.
Most of the capacity of the line — whose proposed path follows existing power lines and designated transmission corridors — will be taken by a planned Pathfinder wind project near Chugwater, which could generate about 2,000 megawatts.
DATC held a series of Wyoming open houses to discuss the line in early April. The company hopes to begin building the structure in 2017 with transmission coming in 2020.
Duke-American has said that it will review all comments from the public meetings in Wyoming and other states before finalizing and permitting an application for state and federal review.
High Plains Express
The transmission project farthest on the horizon, by far, is the High Plains Express line.
A joint project of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority and at least 12 other partners, the $5.5 billion project is unlikely to break ground any time soon.
“The project’s still alive, but there’s no way it would start construction until after the end of this decade, for sure,” Drain said.
The line as announced would carry about 3,500 megawatts, making it potentially the largest of the newly proposed projects. And like PacifiCorp’s lines, Drain said HPX would be equipped to add and offload power along its route.
“We’ve planned on-ramps and off-ramps along the way,” he said. “All the states involved would have opportunities to include some generation.”
The line would begin just north of Wheatland, following a route south through Colorado, west through New Mexico and ending in Arizona.
Drain described High Plains as being in the “pre-development” phase. Little progress on the project is likely, he said, until the electricity market becomes better-defined.
“That development is progressing very slowly, but on purpose,” he said.