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Transmission line may pass through Albany County

A proposed 3,000-megawatt transmission line that would connect a wind energy development near Chugwater with an electrical grid near Las Vegas could pass through northern Albany County.

The Zephyr Power Transmission Project, planned by Duke-American Transmission Company, has been proposed to conduct power generated at Pathfinder Renewable Wind Project, located south of Wheatland, with California markets. It would be 850 miles long and pass through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, carrying enough power to supply 1.4 million homes.

Duke-American is seeking public input in a series of open houses in 18 counties along the proposed route. The goal is to initiate federal and state right-of-way permitting this year and begin construction in 2017.

Project director Chris Jones said Pathfinder has the rights to about 70 percent of the capacity of the high-voltage DC line, which would feed renewable energy demands in southern California.

“That’s the big market,” he said.

DC lines are about five percent more efficient than AC lines, especially over long distances, according to Duke-American.

The proposed route heads west from Chugwater, passing through Albany County just north of Wheatland Reservoir No. 2. In Carbon County, it would pass north of Medicine Bow before turning south and passing just south of Hanna.

It would cross Interstate 80 between Walcott and Sinclair, run parallel to the interstate until Creston, and then turn south again, passing in to Colorado near the Carbon County-Sweetwater County border. The route would swing through northwestern Colorado and head southwest across Utah.

Jones said about 60 percent of the proposed route is on federal land, with one-third on private land and the rest on state land.

In designing the route, the company consulted with federal land managers and developed a half-dozen preliminary proposals, which it narrowed to the current one. More than 200 different constraints were considered, from avoiding large cities and national parks to avoiding sage grouse core areas and priority habitat, Jones said.

“That doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. That’s why we’re here now,” he said during an open house Thursday afternoon at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Jones said he hoped meeting the public before beginning the permitting process would make things go more smoothly.

“We want the best route we can come up with and get as much feedback across a broad range of stakeholders as we can get before we go to permit,” he said.

Paul Martin, president of Intermountain Wind and Solar, which has plans to build a wind farm west of the Laramie Range named the Boswell Springs Wind Project, said he supports the transmission line project.

“We’re definitely proponents,” he said.

Because the Zephyr Project is a DC line, wind developments cannot tie into it without first building a converter station to change the AC voltage created by the turbines into DC voltage carried by the line.

Martin said he would consider connecting to the line at the initial point, where a converter station would be located.

Erik Molvar, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance executive director, said the proposed route through Wyoming would disrupt a big-game migration corridor on the Powder Rim, pass through prime sage grouse habitat and be visible from Adobe Town, a sensitive area in the Red Desert.

“(It) is just the antithesis of intelligent siting decisions,” he said.

He would prefer the route head south from Chugwater and not move west until it crosses the Colorado border. That would take the line roughly along Interstate 25, where there are few sensitive areas.

“The entire southeast corner of the state … is an area where it’s perfectly suited for both transmission line development and wind energy development with minimal environmental impacts,” Molvar said. “This is the place where this ought to be happening.”

A proposed alternative through Carbon County would keep the line close to Wyoming Highway 789, “where you have low-value wildlife habitat and lands that are heavily impacted already from oil and gas development,” Molvar said.

Molvar said the highway is already a power-line corridor and such a route would avoid Adobe Town.

“We’re hoping they can at least make some important tweaks to avoid some of the biggest impacts if they’re not going to move entirely toward that Front Range option,” he said.

Duke-American has set 2020 as its target year for putting the Zephyr Project in operation.

For contact information and more information on the project, go to http://www.datcllc.com/datc-projects/zephyr/.