Public comments regarding a proposed 600-kilovolt extra-high voltage electrical transmission line running through the utility corridor between Lake Las Vegas and Calico Ridge are being accepted by the Bureau of Land Management’s Wyoming field office until April 4.
The proposed two-conductor (transmission line) system is being planned to run from south-central Wyoming, through the federally designated Henderson utility corridor, and terminate at the Marketplace substation in Boulder City’s Eldorado Valley – a distance of some 725 miles that runs through four states and 22 counties. From Eldorado Valley, the electricity would be redistributed and sent over “the grid” to power markets in the Southwest.
It’s designed to carry up to 3,000 megawatts of power, which is the highest capacity allowed on a single transmission line system in the western United States.
Large-scale wind turbine systems in Wyoming will generate the power.
The Wyoming State BLM office; TransWest Express LLC, a company formed expressly for the construction of the project; and AECOM, a third-party consultant helping to prepare the environmental impact statement; jointly held a public scoping meeting March 2 at the Heritage Park Senior Facility.
It was the first chance for local residents to learn firsthand, ask questions and comment on the proposed line, a meeting that marked the first step in the lengthy environmental approval process.
“We’re the lead agency, but we have four states, other BLM state divisions in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado and five national forests that need to be on board before we can issue a Record of Decision,” Wyoming BLM Project Manager Sharon Knowlton said. “We expect a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2013 and in the early part of 2014 issue a Record of Decision, but that’s very optimistic. Usually it takes five years from the beginning of scoping meetings to issue a Record of Decision.”
But that’s not all.
While project planners prefer the Henderson route over an alternate route that would run between Summerlin and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, the proposal still has a number of hurdles to cross, any one of which could prove to be the Achilles’ heel of the Henderson corridor and possibly scuttle its use.
The biggest challenge is the Henderson corridor itself.
The TransWest line would need a 1,500-foot separation from an existing 500-kV line in the corridor, a design standard issued the Western Electricity Coordinating Council and enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The Henderson utility corridor is only 1,400 feet wide, 100 feet narrower than the separation requirement and already has three sets of towers inside the corridor.
To not meet the separation requirement could cause not only interrupted power delivery on the TransWest line, but a neighboring line as well. It could also result in a fine of up to $1 million and the loss of TransWest’s operating permit.
“It has to be 1,500 feet from the nearest line for reliability purposes,” said David Smith, director of engineering for TransWest. “If you don’t comply, you can be fined. Also, if there’s a widespread blackout and there’s the likelihood it could happen again, you could lose the operating license or be restricted so it will not happen again.”
Also, a “choke point” – a place where the corridor is at its narrowest and unable to be widened farther because of development between Lake Las Vegas and Calico Ridge – exists about 800 feet north of Lake Mead Parkway.
Farther south, along Foothills Drive, the separation requirement takes it out of the existing corridor on the west and routes it over the Foothills Rural Neighborhood area, a potential reality that has some homeowners upset.
“Moving it 1,500 feet closer to us puts it on top of us, so I’m not a happy camper at all,” said Robert Busse, whose home sits on the corner of Foothill and Bridle Drives. “We already have enough troubles with our real estate values without having to worry about this.”
TWE is studying a two-mile wide corridor of which it needs only 250 feet of right of way for the transmission line. In the alternative, the study area near the Foothills Rural Neighborhood area contains ample spacing to the east, but that would put it through, and in conflict with, the River Mountains Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
A third issue is the Western Area Power Administration, a 50 percent financial partner in the $2.6-billion project that has the authority to borrow its share from the U.S. Treasury.
Before jumping in financially, though, WAPA has to be satisfied with all aspects of the proposal, including that it “will not adversely impact system reliability or operations,” which could occur if the 1,500-foot separation is reduced because of the Henderson utility corridor’s narrowness.
A fourth issue involves the Marketplace substation’s capability to receive that much power, since the facility is reportedly near or at its full operating capacity now.
Regardless, the public will have a second chance to comment sometime in mid-to-late 2013, and can submit written comments to the BLM at any time before then.
“We’ll publish a Notice of Availability of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement when it’s completed,” Knowlton said. “We’ll have a meeting on it in the Las Vegas area; maybe one here (in Henderson) and one in Las Vegas.”