Wyoming’s future role in wind energy became a lot less speculative this week with the announcement that The Anschutz Corp. plans to take over the TransWest Express Transmission Project.
The $3 billion, 900-mile-long, high-voltage line would provide for 3,000 megawatts of wind energy generation in Wyoming for delivery to emerging renewable energy markets in the Desert Southwest, according to Anschutz affiliate TransWest Express LLC.
The announcement comes just weeks after another affiliate of Anschutz, Power Company of Wyoming LLC, filed notice to the Bureau of Land Management of its intention to install some 2,000 megawatts of wind generation in Carbon County.
The permitting process for both projects could exceed two years.
“There is good reason to be optimistic that wind-generated power in Wyoming can actually be delivered to markets in the Desert Southwest through a major wind-dedicated transmission system,” said Bill Miller, president of TransWest Express.
Anschutz’s twin projects build on the momentum of Rocky Mountain Power’s Gateway West Transmission Project, which will add 3,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity within Wyoming to serve utility customers in Idaho and other Northwestern states. Rocky Mountain is owned by MidAmerica Energy Holdings Co.
In all, power developers have proposed enough wire to enable some 10,000 megawatts of new electrical generation in and around Wyoming within the next five years, according to information provided by the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. One megawatt of wind energy is enough to power about 300 homes.
Energy officials say wind energy makes up a majority of the electrical generation and transmission projects in the works, due mostly to aggressive mandates in Western states that force utilities to add more renewable forms of energy to their portfolios.
It’s a huge step into the renewable energy market for Wyoming, which ranks seventh in the nation for wind resources yet has been stuck at 13th for installed capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
“What you have here are two tier-one companies, both happen to be privately held: MidAmerica and Anschutz. These are companies with substantial assets and the wherewithal to make these projects happen,” said Rob Hurless, energy and telecommunications adviser to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
Hurless said MidAmerica, owned by investor giant Warren Buffett, and Anschutz, headed by oil and real-estate billionaire Phil Anschutz, understand the dynamics of renewable energy in the West. Both base their wind energy electrical transmission proposals on rigorous analysis.
“This isn’t what I would say could be considered speculation. These are real projects that are fully intended to go forward,” Hurless said.
Originally, transmission projects such as TransWest, Gateway South and the Wyoming-Colorado Intertie were studied under the assumption that they would be anchored by coal-based electrical generation.
So far, the projects are moving forward based mostly on wind. Local wind advocates are also eager to point out that recent announcements for major wind energy rollouts were made by billionaires who made their fortunes in the oil and gas industries.
“I think it’s great that these major oil companies and major oil and gas people are getting into wind power now,” said wind developer Bruce Morley. “It’s a lot more credible than coming from somebody who has previously been a green advocate.”
One of the original leaders behind the TransWest Express Transmission Project was the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, which was formed in 2004 by Wyoming legislators to bolster the state’s electrical exports. The authority has been a key player in studies to identify where new transmission could best serve an aging electrical generation and transmission system in the West.
“Many factors go into the equation about what makes something work,” said Jim Monaghan, spokesman for The Anschutz Corp. “The Freudenthal administration has been unambiguous in its support of wind energy projects, and the governor personally has played a leadership role.”
Wyoming is expected to add nearly 500 megawatts of new wind energy this year, with most new turbines being erected in Converse, Carbon and Uinta counties. There are some 30 wind energy proposals in south-central Wyoming in addition to Power Company of Wyoming’s 2,000-megawatt Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project southeast of Rawlins, according to Wyoming BLM spokesman Bruce Collins.
A study released this week by independent electrical transmission developer National Grid suggests there are only two ways to meet growing demand for renewable energy in the Desert Southwest: solar panels near load-demand metropolitan areas, and large-scale wind generation. The study suggests that Wyoming is a prime location for generating wind energy despite the huge investment in interstate transmission lines to get the power to market.
Based on data provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the potential of Wyoming’s Class 6 and Class 7 wind resources is 235,000 gigawatt hours per year, and the state’s Class 4 wind energy resource is 944,000 gigawatt hours per year.
In other words, the NREL data suggests that more than half of the best quality wind resources in the continental United States are in Wyoming. The National Grid report indicates that Wyoming wind delivered to the Desert Southwest is “significantly less expensive” than solar power in the Southwest.
“Under nearly all scenarios evaluated, wind is competitive with natural gas-fired generation as an energy resource,” the report concluded.
By Dustin Bleizeffer
Star-Tribune energy reporter
31 July 2008
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