Wyoming’s next energy boom could ride in on the wind.
There’s a December 31, 2008, expiration date on a federal tax credit for “utility scale” wind development. And within that window of time, utilities must quickly expand the percentage of renewable energy in their electrical portfolios to meet aggressive new standards in several Western states.
Building a wind farm is no breeze. There must be strings attached – power lines.
Private wind developer Bruce Morley said Wyoming is leading the charge in upgrading the Western transmission grid, and that’s blowing in investors from all over the world.
“The Wyoming Legislature, and in particular governor Dave Freudenthal, have done a stellar job of planning and executing new transmission out of Wyoming,” Morley said “The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority has been a leader in that.”
Late last year, Infrastructure Authority executive director Steve Waddington said that a proposal to expand the transmission route from eastern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range gained more than enough investment interest.
And rather than tying the wire to Wyoming’s coal, as originally planned, the first tenant for the new project will likely be wind, according to Waddington. Coal will likely tie-in afterward.
“There is definitely a lot of wind development going on in Wyoming right now,” Waddington said.
Several international investors attended the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s recent meeting in Jackson. Among them were Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Toyota, which are involved in a consortium to build 60-plus wind turbines near Medicine Bow.
One of the side effects of Wyoming’s thriving oil and natural gas development is that it drives up the demand for electricity within Wyoming. Energy development is the driving force for Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s proposed 385-megawatt coal-fired Dry Fork Station near Gillette, according to the company. And Rocky Mountain Power expects its Wyoming demand will increase four-fold due to energy development in western and central Wyoming.
Morley said he and other wind developers hope there’s a beneficial side effect to that increased demand within Wyoming. He hopes the demand for more electrons in Wyoming might have the immediate result of opening up the export capacity on transmission lines leaving the state.
But that may not be a sure bet.
“In principle, the idea is intriguing. In practice, it’s going to be difficult to get significant amounts of transmission in that manner,” said Ron Lehr of the American Wind Energy Association.
Lehr said if Wyoming does retain more of its homegrown electrons and find more open space on its existing export wires, it will likely be short-term.
“If you want to develop wind you need long-term access,” said Lehr. “Your banker is going to want to know, ‘Do you have access to transmission?”‘
Lehr said he agrees that Wyoming seems to be getting closer to answering that question with its efforts through the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.
“Now, a new 345 kilovolt line – that could provide a wind rush,” said Lehr.
By Dustin Bleizeffer
Star-Tribune energy reporter
9 April 2007
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