The hardest part of an $8 billion proposal to build a Wyoming wind farm and transport 2,100 megawatts of power to Southern California utilities is likely to be the $2.3 billion transmission line undertaken by a Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) joint venture.
It should take just a few months for the Southern California Public Power Authority to act on the formal bid for the project next year. Getting the permits for the wind farm is expected to take about two years.
But it is expected to take about four years to get a permit for the 425-mile high-voltage transmission line that Duke-American Transmission Co. proposes to build from the Wyoming wind farm to a power storage facility in Utah. And it will take an additional five years to finish construction after that, says Chris Jones, managing director of business development for Duke-America.
The line can be completed that quickly, in large part, because the project will use an existing power line into California. Permitting for new line construction is notoriously hard in California (and not easy almost anywhere in the country), so avoiding new line construction in that state cuts significant time out of the process.
Still, the nine years required for the new line is the principal reason that the partners propose 2023 as the target date for the project to begin supplying power to the Los Angeles area.
Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy of Wyoming proposes to build a 2,100-megawatt wind farm in its home state to provide energy for the Southern California Public Power Authority.
SCPPA, which represents municipal power companies in the state, issues an annual request for proposals for large-scale clean-energy projects for its utilities.
The wind farm would cost about $4 billion to build.
Pathfinder and Duke-American have proposed selling power from the wind-farm to SCPPA before. Since 2011, they have worked together on proposal to build the farm and run a 850-mile high-voltage line from Wyoming to Southern California.
SCPPA has declined the previous bids. What is different this year is the addition of a large-scale compressed-air storage project.
The storage facility can produce 1,200 megawatts of electricity that can be dispatched 24 hours a day, like power from coal, natural gas or nuclear plant. That, says Pathfinder Managing Partner Jeff Myers, resolves the issues surrounding the fact that wind power is available only when the wind blows.
Dresser-Rand and Magnum Energy, now partners with Pathfinder and Duke-American, propose building the storage facility in large salt dome formations in Utah. Dresser-Rand Senior Vice President Jim Heid says his company and Magnum have separately been working on this element of the project, expected to cost $1.8 billion, for about three years.
SCPPA issued its most recent RFP in February, specifically asking for storage proposals as well as clean generation proposals. So Pathfinder decided to combine its wind farm, Dresser-Rand’s storage technology and Duke-American’s transmission line into a single project.
“We are taking three good projects putting them together to make one great project,” Myers said Tuesday, speaking during a telephone press conference. “We think it will be a winner for the California ratepayers.”
Heid and Myers said the storage facility could also be used by utilities in California to store excess power produced during daylight hours by California’s many large solar farms.
Kelly Nguyen, director of energy services for SCPPA, says she is not familiar with the new proposal from Pathfinder as yet. Pathfinder and its partners will file a formal bid early next year.
Nguyen says depending on the interest of its constituent utilities, SCPPA could make a decision on any proposal in as little as a month after it is submitted. At all events, she says, SCPPA would make a decision one way or the other on a bid before the end of 2015.
Jones said on the conference call that Duke-American will also look for additional customers – both clean-energy producers and utilities – for the proposed power line.
The current proposal is scaled back from the Duke-American’s original proposal of an 850- to 950-mile line. The smaller proposal is made possible by using the existing transmission line from Utah to California. Jones says it is still possible that the remainder of the longer line will eventually be built.
“This could be just a first phase of a bigger project, or it could be the only phase,” he says. “But I wouldn’t consider it a replacement for the larger transmission line yet.”
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