A proposed transmission line to carry “clean” electricity generated in the Powder River Basin and southeast Montana to markets in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix could be operating by 2012 – about the same time several large generation projects are expected to be up and running.
TransCanada, a North American energy transportation and power services company, is about four years into planning NorthernLights, a major transmission project, representatives told the Converse County commissioners last week.
The NorthernLights “Inland Project” would build two 1,000-mile transmission lines, one each starting in the Powder River Basin and in southeast Montana. Those lines would carry up to 3,000 megawatts each of electricity to Las Vegas, where supplies could help address growing power needs, and possibly on to Los Angeles and Phoenix.
The lines would transport power generated by wind turbines and from “clean” coal, including electricity made through integrated gasification combined cycle plants, Edwards said. Those technologies would meet recent California specifications for importing more environmentally friendly power.
Several coal generation plants are in various states of progress in the Powder River Basin, and schedules could bring those online at about the same time the NorthernLights transmission project is up and running. For several years, the state and developers have been trying to address how to export electricity instead of raw resources when the transmission capabilities are lacking in Wyoming.
“The technology is there … but one of the key critical pieces is finding the backbone to get it (power) to market,” Edwards said.
“Generation is the easy part of the equation, and it’s still hard,” commission Chairman Jim Willox agreed, saying the transmission proposal would be good for Wyoming and Converse County because it would allow export of a value-added product, instead of raw resources.
While several other transmission projects are in various stages of planning in Wyoming, the NorthernLights project is the only one proposing to use entirely direct current, instead of alternating current, to transmit electricity. Direct current lines are cheaper to build, and savings are typically passed on to markets, Edwards said. And direct-current lines experience about 5 percent net loss in power from generation to market, compared to alternating current lines which can lose as much as 30 percent, he said.
Steve Waddington, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said some other transmission projects are also considering using direct current or a combination, including the TransWest Express Line and the Frontier Line, an effort spurred by the Western Governors Association. A feasibility study on that transmission line is expected this spring.
“I think there is room for all of them (the projects),” Waddington said. “The key issue for Wyoming is whether we can successfully see coal gasification technologies emerge on a commercial scale.”
Particularly when companies are considering transporting power over long distances, as is the case through Wyoming, direct-current lines “have attributes that emerge when you’re looking at long-term solutions,” he said. They leave a narrower footprint, have lower net power losses over long distances, and resolve some cost recovery issues because companies know exactly how much power is going in at one end and is coming out at the other – sort of like a pipeline, Waddington explained.
Because direct-current transmission uses shorter towers and fewer lines, a major transmission project such as this one would leave a smaller footprint on the land. Edwards said that in order to transmit around 3,000 megawatts of power, an alternating-current corridor uses three separate lines side by side, whereas a direct-current corridor, due to the higher efficiency, can get by with a single line.
Another project benefit, according to Edwards, is the route selected for NorthernLights. The Powder River Basin line would run southwest through Converse County to southwest Wyoming before jutting north to join the line from Montana near Borah, Idaho. The two lines would remain separate but share a common corridor as they trace Nevada’s eastern border south to Las Vegas. This route avoids populated areas, national monuments and environmentally sensitive areas and is considered “very permittable” based on early discussions with state and federal permitting agencies, Edwards said.
He acknowledged NorthernLights has a lot of work ahead. An exact route should be firmed up soon. At that point, project leaders will ramp up talks with local communities on the route and with generation developers and utilities in the Southwest, he said.
By Rena Delbridge
Monday, February 12, 2007
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