Company looks for solution to SE Wyo energy transmissionWritten by Christy Hemken
According to the Wyoming Wind Collector and Transmission Task Force, four projects representing 85 percent of the proposed export capacity intend to serve markets west of Wyoming.
The project most recently introduced is the Overland Intertie Project (OIP), which would originate in southeast Wyoming near Chugwater and carry power west through the state, into Idaho and, potentially, south to Las Vegas, Nev. via the Southwest Intertie Project, which is under construction.
The OIP, an LS Power project, would entail a 500 kV transmission line running over 560 miles. Initiated in 2009, the company estimates an in-service date of 2014 or 2015.
“That line, in my mind, is the one that will help us,” says Grant Stumbough of Southeast Wyoming RC&D. “It’s not a utility line, but one on which wind developers can bid for capacity, and it’s the one we really need.”
Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) Director Steve Ellenbecker adds that these “merchant projects,” because they don’t have native customers, are dependent on their energy producers to have contracts with utilities at the other end of the line.
“To make the project viable LS Power would have to have long-term agreements to enable the financing and justify moving forward,” says Ellenbecker, noting the multi-billion-dollar scope of the proposed project.
According to the Wyoming Wind Collector and Transmission Task Force, it is not uncommon to have construction costs that exceed $2 million per mile. “Placing the payment obligation onto wind developers and select transmission customers for new line construction is difficult, due to the risk associated with the large investment and uncertainties related to transmission line construction,” says their report to the Legislative Task Force on Wind Energy Transmission Sub-Committee, presented early October.
Stumbough says the proposed OIP line has the capability of exporting a lot of southeast Wyoming’s wind energy to markets in other states. “The primary purpose of this line is to export this wind out of here,” he says.
LS Power has a stated mission of expanding the existing transmission system to accommodate new generation, especially renewable resources in areas remote from load centers. According to the LS Power website, “LS Power is actively developing several long distance, high-voltage transmission projects throughout the United States – projects to bring attractive renewable generation to load and improve the aging transmission system.”
Of the timeline to develop transmission lines, Ellenbecker says it can take anywhere from seven to 10 years to plan and construct the larger projects.
“The lines they’re talking about are proposed to be larger in scope and scale than any existing transmission facilities,” he explains. “The largest transmission line in Wyoming right now is 345 kV, and these new projects could be up to 500 kV.”
“The OIP will still face approximately three years of permitting and siting before entering construction,” says Ellenbecker.
Regarding the interaction of the OIP with the older Wyoming/Colorado Intertie (WCI) Project, which would originate from the same area of the state, Aaron Clark, Energy Infrastructure Advisor to Gov. Freudenthal, says the two won’t conflict and there’s ample development potential for both transmission lines. In fact, LS Power now has equity ownership in the WCI Project as well.
However, the WCI Project has encountered challenges in finding Colorado utilities with which to partner.
“The WCI Project has had a tough time cracking the Colorado market, so right now there’s not an outlet for that line,” says Clark.
“The effort is to move power to the Colorado Front Range, and they’re still working on developing that project, which is a year in front of the OIP,” says Ellenbecker. “It’s still going through routing, permitting and siting, and it’s still in need of firm interest from the Front Range.”
“We believe the project has the right economics to make it viable, but we did encounter a setback when Xcel Energy, which provides utility service in Denver, determined bids from wind developers in eastern Colorado were a lower price than the Wyoming bids,” says Ellenbecker. “That’s still under further evaluation and technical inquiry into their findings.
Nonetheless, Ellenbecker says there’s an energy transmission bottleneck at the Wyoming/Colorado border that needs to be opened to facility energy transfer between the two states.
Stumbough says he thinks that, if LS Power continues as they are, they should encounter cooperative landowners and citizens for the OIP. Clark says he thinks that, given the economic boost to local economies without a great deal of existing tax base, he thinks public support will be higher for the OIP than others recently proposed.