Pathfinder Wind moves forward with partners
“We’re not a big international company, we’re a Wyoming company building Wyoming wind for Wyoming,” says Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy Executive Advisor Brad Williams.
Currently Pathfinder Wind has wind energy contracts on 100,000 acres lying on both sides of Interstate 25 in the Chugwater area. Williams says the company expects to produce at least 2,100 megawatts of wind energy, which is what they’ve contracted on the Zephyr transmission line.
“One of the things we’ve got going for us is a big footprint; 2,100 megawatts is a lot of wind turbines, but in a compact footprint,” says Williams, noting that will minimize environmental impacts as well as collector systems. “We’ll also have some economies of scale, and we hope to decrease the cost.”
As far as the status of wind and transmission development in southeast Wyoming, he says the moral of the story is that Pathfinder, along with TransCanada, Horizon and BP, is moving ahead to make the wind development happen sooner than later.
In addition to TransCanada’s Zephyr line, Williams says the Gateway West line is a good project, with good momentum. “It’s moving through the permitting process, and it’s helpful that Rocky Mountain Power, being a utility, has certain advantages, but they have to deal with a lot of other issues, too. Gateway West appears to be a solid project that’s moving ahead.”
Williams continues, “We think we’ve got an advantage with TransCanada, because we’ve actually signed a binding agreement for service. This is not a term sheet, idea or concept. We’ve spent months working on the detailed documentation of how this will work. It’s taken millions of dollars in development spending, and billions of dollars of credit support behind the 25-year agreements. These are the kinds of things that have to go into these giant transmission projects.”
“Partnering with Horizon and BP is a good thing for us,” says Williams. “Horizon is a great developer, and BP has a lot of skill on-shore. These companies have a lot of capabilities and financial strength, and they understand what it takes to develop a large project.”
He adds, “At Pathfinder we wanted to align ourselves with an equipment supplier that brings us more than equipment. We wanted one that could bring political and financial clout and the technical capability to give us the most advanced technology we could get, and that’s where we were fortunate to partner up with GE.”
GE will provide all the turbine equipment for Pathfinder going forward to develop the 2,100 megawatts.
“One of the important things is they bring is constantly improving technology,” comments Williams. “They’re always tweaking the physical data and looking at how they can squeeze the most wind energy from every tower. They also have expertise in transmission.”
Williams says another Pathfinder partner is Sammons Energy Development, which he describes as big in energy and infrastructure around the world. “They’re a long-term owner/operator, and for Pathfinder, we’ll build and operate this project for a long time,” he says.
However, as great as Wyoming wind is, and as many partners as Pathfinder can have, Williams says it’s not worth anything if it can’t get to the customers who will pay for the renewable energy.
“Right now the biggest customer pool is California, and what Zephyr has done is work on the line that will carry power from the Chugwater area to the California interface,” he explains of the TransCanada project. “We’re doing a lot of work that no one will ever see, with experts, consultants, environmental advisors, economic advisors and all kinds of help to make this thing happen.”
Williams says one of the biggest challenges is in regulatory affairs.
“A project like this has certain political momentum, but also political hurdles,” he states. “We’re trying to make sure that people understand what the project is about, and what it’s not about.”
He says Pathfinder and its partners have spent a lot of time on the preliminary route design for the transmission project, in preparation for running what he calls the “permitting race.”
“It’s just like a marathon, where you have to train and train for the day of the race. We’re getting ready to start the race, and we’ve been doing all the training with TransCanada, BP and Horizon. There’s a lot of work being put in by a lot of people, and there’s a lot of money being spent,” he says.
In that process, Williams says the goal has been to use the most sophisticated technology. “We want to be all about efficiency and lowering costs. The best chance we’ve got is to provide the best quality of service to California,” he says.
At this point, the Zephyr line is fully subscribed. “There will be other lines built, but we feel like we’ve got an advantage because we’re moving along and we’ve signed some binding documents,” says Williams. “This will be one of the projects that actually gets done, with an in-service date of 2016.”
Williams estimates the partnership is 90 percent ready to go to the regulators and permitting authorities, and he says there will be a lot more publicity on Zephyr and Pathfinder in the days ahead.
“We’ve got to get down the road of permitting before we move in the field,” he says. “With the regulations and attention to detail from the government, we’re two-and-a-half years from starting to turn dirt in the field.”
Until that time, the legwork will include front-end engineering and design, bringing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on board and spending time with state authorities.
“The big key is to get to southern California,” says Williams of the entire project. “There’s a lot of political will to make renewables a bigger part of California and Arizona, and that’s what we’ll supply. The California governor says he wants 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 for his state, and Wyoming is the best place to help meet that load.”
Williams says that, with the new administration in California, they expect legislation that will clarify the rules of the game in California, which should open the door for contracts that Pathfinder and TransCanada will push in the coming years.