JACKSON – It’s no secret that Wyoming wants to sell its wind power to California. But its chances are still up in the air, said some participants at a state Infrastructure Authority meeting here Tuesday.
“It’s a big question mark, and a gamble,” said Bill Boyd, executive vice president and chief operating officer of TransWest Express LLC, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp. and developer of a high-voltage power line to carry wind power from Wyoming to California.
Yet Boyd and others at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority meeting, including a top adviser to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, say they’re hopeful Wyoming can make a case for its wind energy, arguably cheaper by the megawatt for California customers.
“The quality of the resource here in Wyoming is so far superior that you’ve got a ratepayer case to make for that power to California,” said Steve Black, counselor to Salazar on energy issues. “California is listening; it’s skeptical but it’s listening.”
California’s leaders, especially Gov. Jerry Brown, have said they’re committed to developing in-state renewable energy projects as a source of both jobs and power. That means Wyoming wind energy – even if it does prove to be relatively inexpensive – may get a cold shoulder.
Still, developers are working to stretch two power lines between the two states to meet expected demand: Anschutz’s 726-mile, 3,000-megawatt TransWest Express project and the 930-mile, 3,000 Zephyr project recently purchased and under development by Duke-American Transmission Co.
Both lines would move Wyoming wind power to customers in the desert Southwest and into California, and developers of the lines are hoping for a Pacific Coast payoff.
“We see a terrific need for new transmission,” said Chris Jones, project managing director for Duke-American, a joint venture between North Carolina-based Duke Energy and Wisconsin-based American Transmission Co.
California, like 27 other states, has established a requirement that a certain percentage of its electricity come from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower. California has decided it wants a third of its power to come from renewable sources by 2020.
“The California demand – we think the 33 percent target they’ve set leaves a lot of room for us to bring our power in,” said Boyd of TransWest Express.
Boyd mentioned a 2011 Western Electricity Coordinating Council report he said indicated California customers would save $600 million a year if they covered a portion of the state’s demand with Wyoming wind instead of other sources – even if the cost of transmission was factored in.
He said California utilities are well aware of the value of Wyoming wind and advocates for low-cost power in the state are starting to get the message.
“One of the efforts that we’re making in California is showing them how much less ours will cost once it gets there,” he said. “In the end, the ratepayer in California is the one who has to decide whether he wants the power to come in from outside.”
California’s huge number of customers is the biggest prize of all.
By 2020, the state’s renewable energy needs will comprise 70 percent of demand in the West, said the Interior Department’s Black.
“The policy driver and the market driver right now is in California,” he said. “For better or for worse.”
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