Transmission a wind development challengeWritten by Jennifer Womack
“Our associations alone amount to around 3,000 megawatts of potential capacity,” said Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Coordinator Grant Stumbough of the eight wind associations involving 250 landowners he’s helped organize. “You can see the disparity between that and the 900 megawatts to come on-line as part of WCI.” Landowners across the region have also signed several individual leases.
“We cover about 855,000 acres and represent huge economic opportunity for Southeast Wyoming,” said Stumbough. “Right now the opportunity aspect of that hinges on a few key items including transmission to get our resource to market.”
Development of transmission can arrive in a few ways, the most broadly functional of which is construction of new lines. While several lines are in various stages of progression, there’s not much beyond WCI that’s currently slated to tap into the state’s southeastern wind resource. Bryce Freeman from the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority told attendees at the RC&D meeting in Wheatland that even if the pending bidding process for space on WCI proves successful, line capacity wouldn’t likely be increased due to market limitations on the other end.
Stumbough said development of a line from southeast Wyoming to the Dave Johnson Power Plant near Glenrock, should utility companies and wind developers be open to the idea, may be worth exploring. He said the area is shaping up to be a hub to distribute power across the region and into key markets like the Desert Southwest and California. Development of lines leading out of the area is happening at a pace similar to what is being seen with the WCI.
Freeman and RC&D member Jim Hudelson of Goshen County, a former power company executive, say overturning what’s commonly called “FERC 888” also holds opportunity. As Stumbough explains it, the regulation limits power companies from making a profit selling excess capacity on their power lines. That leaves little incentive to reveal available capacity or to build new transmission with excess capacity. Regulations must be changed to provide companies with incentives to build additional transmission if we are to fully develop our wind energy potential in the western states.
Stumbough also points out, while expensive, he’s recently been told that updating electrical substations can also enhance capacity.
“It looks like Wyoming wind, even if you have to transfer it 1,000 miles to it sold, is still competitive with local resources,” said Freeman.
He estimates the wind resources in the state cost 5.5 cents per kwh to generate and additional two cents per kwh to transmit. Existing renewable energy portfolios have established a market. In California, for example, original goals set forth 30 percent renewable by 2020, but Freeman said could be increased to 50 percent via a ballot initiative underway. As it stands the state is receiving 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said Freeman.
“We would like to see southeastern Wyoming have the same economic opportunity now taking place in south central Wyoming,” said Stumbough. “We have a 40-50 percent wind capacity, 8-24 mile per hour winds on average and the infrastructure including the interstate and railways. We have everything it takes to make good wind farms, we’re just lacking the transmission.”