Power line construction would open a chokehold on new power generation, employ tens of thousands of people, and bring billions of dollars into Wyoming, according to a recently released federal study.
The study, conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, envisions construction of a network of power lines that could carry 9,000 megawatts from Wyoming throughout the West, as well as new wind farms and natural gas-fired power plants based in the state to generate additional electricity for those lines.
Wyoming already exports significant amounts of energy in the form of coal and natural gas. But if the state could also export electricity, new construction to build those transmission lines and power generation would create about 50,000 jobs, pay $2.65 billion in wages and benefits, and generate about $13 billion of economic activity over a decade, according to the study.
“New wind power, new natural gas generation and new transmission development in Wyoming could provide a sizable boost to the Wyoming economy and its workers,” said study authors Eric Lantz and Suzanne Tegen in the report. “These projects represent a significant source of new investment in the state during the construction and operations period.”
Along with the power lines, the study assumes construction of 9,000 megawatts of wind power and 1,800 megawatts of natural gas-fired power generation.
The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, a state authority that promotes power line development, commissioned the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to conduct the study, which the authority released Tuesday. A draft version of the study was submitted to the authority’s board in February.
“We felt like it would be good for the state to have a comprehensive study, which to my knowledge has never been done before,” said Loyd Drain, the authority’s executive director. “It helps us further quantify the benefits that can be derived from transmission and not just wind generation, but natural gas generation.”
Wyoming is home to a large supply of natural gas, and the state’s abundant wind means it’s ranked highly as a location for wind energy facilities. Many states now require customers use a certain percentage of renewable energy for power, known as renewable portfolio standards.
Since wind is among the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy, Wyoming’s wind resource could provide power to states with those standards, the study’s authors said.
“Wyoming’s energy resources far exceed what can be consumed by local demand,” they said. “New transmission connecting Wyoming energy resources with high-demand population centers in California, Nevada and Arizona would allow continued export of low-cost Wyoming wind and conventional energy resources.”
Even after construction of the power generation and lines is finished, the projects would employ about 2,450 and generate about $380 million per year, according to the study.
The analysts expect wind energy development’s economic impact — jobs, wages and spending — to spike in 2016 and again in 2019, but then flatten out in later years as projects phase into normal operations.
The projects’ construction and 20 years of operation would generate between $12 billion to $15 billion of economic activity, according to the study’s authors. That number, based on Wyoming snagging a third of the economic activity from the projects, assumes the rest of the money would benefit those in other states.
Wyoming could benefit even more if it could snag more of that activity if it could build a work force ready for that kind of work and develop a manufacturing capacity to support those kinds of projects, the study says.
“The development of a Wyoming labor force that can support this type of infrastructure development, along with a modest amount of Wyoming manufacturing capacity to support these types of projects, could greatly increase the economic activity occurring in Wyoming from these projects,” the authors said.
Drain, with the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said the Worthington-Gestamp wind turbine tower manufacturing facility planned for Cheyenne is a great example of the manufacturing that is needed.
There are six transmission line projects under development in Wyoming — totaling nearly 15,000 megawatts of capacity — that already exceed the capacity of those constructed under the study’s parameters, although Drain cautions there’s no guarantee all those projects will be built.
But those additional lines could provide the capacity needed for both wind energy and power generated from the state’s natural gas.
“There’s a lot of space there that enterprising folks could take advantage of and it’s available,” he said. “We think for sure that some of it will be filled up with natural gas-fired generation.”