TransWest Express, Gateway West achieve major federal permitting milestones
Cheyenne, WY July 30, 2013 – Both of Wyoming’s electricity transmission line projects selected for focus by the federal Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT) have moved ahead this summer in their respective permitting processes. The RRTT is co-led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The two Wyoming transmission lines chosen in October 2011 for the RRTT program include the TransWest Express Transmission Project (TWE Project), and the Energy Gateway West Transmission Project (GWW Project), both of which must cross hundreds of miles of federally owned land in the Western United States. Both projects initially applied for federal rights-of-way in 2007.
- On July 3, 2013, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Western Area Power Administration (Western), serving as joint lead agencies, announced the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the TWE Project, with a 90-day comment period ending Sept. 30. The TWE Project is a 600 kV, 3,000 MW direct current (HVDC) transmission line that will provide California-Nevada-Arizona utilities access to the very high-capacity, very cost-effective, world class wind energy generated in Wyoming. The approximately 725-mile line is being developed by TransWest Express LLC, an independent transmission developer, and Western which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy. The TWE Project is the only RRTT project to interconnect Wyoming resources with the Desert Southwest electricity market.
- On April 26, 2013, the BLM issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the GWW Project, and the 60-day comment period closed June 28th. The GWW Project includes approximately 1,000 miles of new 230 kV and 500 kV AC lines between the Windstar Substation near Glenrock, Wyo., and the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho. It is being developed jointly by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power to provide electricity to meet increasing customer needs. The GWW Project will deliver power from existing and future electric resources including renewable resources.
Given the length of time required to reach these milestones, continued progress needs to be made to improve the permitting process. Both the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the RRTT have devoted substantial resources to achieve improvements. An initiative to address needed improvements is underway which includes the goals of improved communication within federal agencies as well as between agencies and state offices; the creation of roadmaps on a state-basis which detail both state and federal requirements relative to the development of transmission; and an improved pre-application process. When fully implemented, the initiative could result in a more coordinated, streamlined process mitigating both timing and cost.
Multiple studies have shown the kinds of benefits that will be achieved by approving the construction of and investment in new regional transmission infrastructure in the West. Some examples:
- According to a WIA-commissioned study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the development of 9,000 MW of new power transmission lines in Wyoming for export to California and other states would add $12 billion to $15 billion in total economic output in the State of Wyoming (construction plus 20 years of operation). An estimated average of 4,000-5,900 jobs would be supported from construction of infrastructure from 2011-2020 and 2,300-2,600 permanent jobs was estimated during operation.
- Several studies have shown the economic and operational benefits for California’s electric system by balancing and integrating California’s renewables with wind energy obtained from Wyoming. For example, a groundbreaking wind diversity study conducted by the University of Wyoming revealed that incorporating Wyoming wind energy into California’s electricity system would both reduce system volatility and the need to supplement California renewables with dispatchable generation, therefore saving money for utilities and their customers as well as providing significant reductions in atmospheric emissions. The University of Wyoming Study projected savings to California electricity customers in excess of $100 million annually.
- Economic analysis by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), which coordinates the bulk electric system across the Western U.S. and Canada, shows cost savings for California ratepayers by tapping a portion of Wyoming’s winds. WECC’s U.S. Department of Energy-funded 10-Year Regional Transmission Plan analysis indicates that if California met just 20% of its renewable energy demand with deliveries of high-capacity wind energy from Wyoming, California ratepayers could save on the order of $600 million every year, translating to billions of dollars in savings for those customers over time (does not include the savings projected at the University of Wyoming’s Geographic Diversity Study).